The FBI, under pressure from the Jewish community, is now investigating the July 4 killing of two Jews at the El Al counter at Los Angeles International Airport as a terrorist incident.
This comes nearly eight weeks after the bureau first rejected, then downplayed, that the random shooting by an Egyptian gunman might have been a terrorist act.
At the same time, the FBI is admitting that it mishandled its initial public response to the incident. That response sparked outrage by several congressmen and Jewish leaders, who charged that the bureau was resisting labeling the killings as a terrorist act for the sake of political correctness.
Rep. Eliot Engel (D-Bronx) on Tuesday made public an FBI letter to him stating that "our Los Angeles office has opened this case as a terrorism investigation."
"Terrorism has certainly not been ruled out in this case, and we do not intend this interim period of information gathering to imply that it has been. It is, in fact, being investigated as such," stated the Aug. 16 letter from John Collingwood, assistant director of the FBI’s office of public and congressional affairs.
Collingwood also admitted that the Los Angeles bureau may have mishandled the case by initially ruling out and downplaying terrorism as the motive, and instead emphasizing it could be a "hate crime" or "random act of violence."
"Perhaps confusion resulted when our representatives declined to make an immediate public assessment that this tragic shooting was an act of terrorism, opting instead to explain that the FBI would collect more information and evidence prior to reaching a more definitive conclusion," Collingwood wrote.
He noted that in a recent meeting with Anti-Defamation League national director Abraham Foxman and others, FBI director Robert Mueller explained that "while no final conclusion has been reached, our Los Angeles office has opened this case as a terrorism investigation."
At the first FBI press conference on the attack, FBI lead investigator Richard Garcia said there was no indication that it was an act of terrorism when Hesham Mohamed Hadayet, a 41-year-old Egyptian Muslim limousine service owner, killed a female El Al ticket agent and a businessman, and wounded three others.
"It may be a random act of violence," Garcia said. "We are not ruling out hate crimes. We are not ruling out terror. We are looking into whether the person was despondent."
FBI officials maintained that position for weeks.
"There is no doubt in my mind that the Fourth of July shooting at LAX was an act of terrorism," Engel said in a written statement Tuesday. "The FBI has done the right thing by changing their tune and investigating this horrible incident as an act of terrorism."
Foxman said the news is better late than never. "We think that’s what they should have done in the first place."