Los Angeles airport gunman 'targeted security officials'


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The Independent US

The gunman who shot dead a security officer and brought America's third busiest airport to a standstill on Friday afternoon had enough ammunition to have "killed everyone" in the terminal, the mayor of Los Angeles said as the FBI launched a probe into the 23-year-old suspect's motives.

Paul Anthony Ciancia, a Los Angeles resident, was wounded by police and detained after opening fire with an assault rifle in Terminal 3 of LA International Airport, wounding seven and killing a security agent from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Hundreds of flights were affected nationwide during the attack which stirred unsettling memories of the 11 September 2001 attacks among American air travellers and raised questions about airport security.

The terminal where the attack happened remained closed yesterday as authorities carried out investigations across an extensive crime scene. Ciancia is said to have opened fire at a security checkpoint after pulling a .223-calibre semi automatic assault-style rifle from a bag. He continued walking through Terminal 3 of the airport, where police shot him several times. He was taken into custody in a "critical condition".

Investigators said they wanted to know what had been "the tipping point" for the suspect, who had recently moved to LA from New Jersey. Sources said that he had sent "angry, rambling" text messages to family members in recent days and it has emerged that Ciancia's father contacted police in New Jersey shortly before the shooting, after an apparently suicidal text message was sent by the suspect to his brother.

The Los Angeles Times reported that a note was found on Ciancia expressing "disappointment in the government", and saying he had no intention to hurt innocent people. One witness said that he appeared to be targeting security officials. Leon Saryan told CNN that, after shooting a TSA officer, the attacker "calmly" approached him and asked: "TSA?"

"I just shook my head and he kept going," Mr Saryan said.

The security officer who was killed was Gerardo Hernandez, 39. The TSA said it was the first time one its officers had been killed in the line of duty. The security agency was set up in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Its officers, who screen all commercial airline passengers and baggage, do not carry weapons.

Ciancia reportedly attended a private Catholic high school in Delaware. A former classmate said he was quiet, solitary and also a victim of bullying. "In four years I never heard a word out of his mouth," said David Hamilton, an editorial assistant at a publishing firm in Philadelphia. "He kept to himself and ate lunch alone a lot... he was quiet and people would take advantage of that."

The shootings sparked a debate over whether TSA agents should be armed. Tom Ridge, a former secretary of the US Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the TSA, said he opposed arming. "That requires a level of sophistication and law enforcement training... I'm not sure it's going to make that much of a difference," he said.

At a news conference on Friday night, the Mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, said the gunman had at least 100 rounds "that could have literally killed everyone in that terminal".