Today's Papers

The Lone Gunman

The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, and USA Today all lead with the murder of two civilians by an Egyptian gunman at Los Angeles International Airport yesterday. At about 11:30 a.m., the man opened fire at the El Al ticket counter, killing a ticket agent and a jewelry salesman, before he was shot dead by airport security. American officials say there is no indication that the incident was an organized terrorist attack, but Israel is unconvinced. The New York Times leads with a notable scoop about America’s plans to invade Iraq. Preliminary discussions are well underway about a major invasion from the north, south, and west, including tens of thousands of troops attacking from Kuwait, hundreds of war planes stationed in as many as eight neighboring countries, and covert operations to destroy Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.

The LAT and USAT identified the LAX gunman as Hesham Mohamed Hadayet, a 41-year-old Egyptian. The NYT and WP did not get the man’s identification into their print editions and included an incorrect report available earlier yesterday that the man was 52 years old. Both papers put up Associated Press stories on their Web sites last night with Hadayet’s proper identification. Every paper identified 46-year-old Yakov Aminov, an Israeli émigré and diamond importer, as one of the victims, but only the LAT obtained the name of Vicky Chen, a 20-year-old employee of an El Al subcontractor who worked as a ticket agent and was also killed. The NYT, WP, and USAT included eyewitness accounts of the attack in their news stories, while the LAT ran a separate story with detailed descriptions.

The NYT lead by Eric Schmitt provides an in-depth preview of what an American invasion of Iraq might look like. Sourced to a “person familiar with a [military planning] document,” the story says that the “concept” for a war plan is “highly evolved” and that the next step is to assemble a final war plan and work out the timing of each component of the attack. Although none of the governments involved have been contacted, the story says America plans to stage a ground invasion from Kuwait and launch warplanes from Turkey and Qatar. The document does not include critical information like casualty estimates, and the story says this suggests that there are several other classified documents in circulation addressing different aspects of the potential invasion.

The WP’s original war reporting for the day is an inside story saying that the American military has made substantial gains in its ability to destroy enemy mobile arms, but that its ability to destroy Iraqi Scud missiles is still in question. The piece says that America’s determination to oust Saddam Hussein makes it more likely the dictator will use whatever chemical or biological weapons he has at his disposal, making the estimated 35 percent of Scuds that could evade American strikes (down from 100 percent during the Gulf War) especially deadly.

A front-page feature in the WSJ says that Taliban and al-Qaida refugees may be sneaking into Europe through lax border controls in former Communist bloc states, especially Slovakia. The severe poverty in many Eastern European nations makes border patrols there especially likely to accept bribes from potential immigrants, and America is just beginning to recognize how much these porous borders may compromise its attempt to squelch terrorist organizations.

The NYT runs two other significant foreign stories. A front-page feature cautions that Pakistani dictator Pervez Musharraf’s support for America is costing him support at home at an ever-increasing rate. While he was viewed as a free-thinking, progressive force for moderate Islam last fall, he is now seen as a puppet of U.S. interests desperately clawing to hold onto power. The piece says that Musharraf may have to resume letting Islamic insurgents into Kashmir to avoid a coup.

An inside news story in the NYT discusses a controversial shipment of near-weapons-grade nuclear material from Japan to Britain. A British company sold nearly 550 pounds of a plutonium-uranium hybrid to Japan to power its nuclear reactors, but the quality certifications for the fuel were found to be fake. Japan sent the material back to Britain yesterday on a boat viewed by many to be insufficiently guarded against sabotage or attack from terrorists.

Saddam Hussein’s stepson was arrested in Florida yesterday for visa violations, and the LAT wrote an original story while the NYT, WSJ, WP, and USAT ran the A.P. version. The LAT piece ran under the headline “Hussein’s Stepson Has No Links to Terrorism, U.S. Believes,” while the wire story gives the details of the arrest before distancing him from terrorism. Authorities are questioning him on his reasons for attempting to enroll at a flight school attended by one of the Sept. 11 hijackers.

The NYT’s National section has a piece on Nevada’s annual Burning Man Festival, which for 15 years has attracted 25,000 people to the desert since a wooden effigy was burned in San Francisco for no apparent reason. Many participants in the festival perform songs, plays, and dances in the nude, and a voyeur has been videotaping parts of the event and selling them on a pornographic Web site. The festival is now suing the Web site.