FBI: Man who landed stolen plane in Southeast Missouri has no known links to terrorists

Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Adam Dylan Leon, the suspect who allegedly stole an aircraft from Canada Monday, is seen in a booking photo released by the Butler County, Missouri Sheriff's Department Tuesday, April 7, 2009. (AP Photo/Daily American Republic, Butler County Sheriff)

ELLSINORE, Mo. (AP) -- A man suspected of stealing a plane in Canada and landing six hours later in Missouri has no known associations with terrorism, the FBI agent in charge of the St. Louis office said Tuesday.

Federal authorities confirmed that Adam Dylan Leon, 31, was born in Turkey with the name Yavuz Berke, but moved to Canada and became a naturalized citizen.

FBI Special Agent John Gillies said a background check showed no connection to terrorism.

A Trooper with the Missouri State Highway Patrol secures the scene, Tuesday, April 7, 2009, where an aircraft allegedly stolen from Ontario, Canada, landed in Carter County, a few miles west of Ellsinore on April 6. (AP Photo/Daily American Republic, Paul Davis)

Leon flew erratically across three states before landing the plane Monday night on a rural highway near Ellsinore. Justin Watson, the state trooper who arrested him, told ABC's "Good Morning America" that the suspect had hoped to be shot down because he wanted to commit suicide and didn't have the courage to do it himself.

Leon was jailed in St. Louis, said Carl Rusnok, a spokesman for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said. A spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office in St. Louis said no charges have been filed.

The Cessna 172 was reported stolen Monday afternoon from Confederation College Flight School at Thunder Bay International Airport in Ontario. It was intercepted by F-16 fighters from the Wisconsin National Guard after crossing into the state near the Michigan state line.

The plane was tracked as a "flight safety issue" and was not believed to be a terrorist threat, Mike Kucharek, spokesman for the North American Aerospace Defense Command, said in a telephone interview from Colorado Springs.

The pilot was flying erratically and didn't communicate with the fighter pilots, Kucharek said. The pilot acknowledged seeing the F-16s but didn't obey their nonverbal commands to follow them, Kucharek said.

The plane's path over Wisconsin prompted a brief, precautionary evacuation of the Wisconsin capitol in Madison, although few workers were in the building at the time and the governor was not in town.

The plane then flew south over Illinois and eastern Missouri before landing near Ellsinore, about 120 miles south-southwest of St. Louis. It landed about six hours after the reported theft and had enough fuel for about eight hours of flight, NAADC officials said.

"We tailed it all the way," Maj. Brian Martin said. "Once it landed our aircraft returned to base."

Confederation College confirmed Leon is a student there and that he made an unauthorized flight. The college said in a statement that Leon had access to Cessna training planes.

"His faculty speak very highly of him," college President Patricia Lang said. "Everyone likes him. He was a very good student. He was very engaged in class. He asked great questions, so he was an all around good student."

Leon had enrolled in 2006 before failing out, she said. He was readmitted last fall and was living off campus. Lang said she believed he was from Toronto.

Leon was arrested at the Simmons store, a small convenience store near Ellsinore.

Store owner Marilyn Simmons lives near the site where the plane landed on a desolate stretch of U.S. 60 before taxiing onto Route FF. A relative called to tell her about the plane, prompting Simmons to worry about terrorism.

"My husband went and got his guns and gave me one," Simmons said.

She then called the store and told workers to watch out. Sure enough, Leon showed up after a young man who stopped to offer help gave him a ride.

"He gave him $2 and dropped him off," Simmons said. "He asked for the bathroom, then got a Gatorade and sat down at the table. He was there when they came and got him. He was smiling when he went out."

But Watson said Leon told him he was suicidal.

"He made a statement that he was trying to commit suicide and he didn't have the courage to do it himself. And his idea was to fly the aircraft into the United States, where he would be shot down," Watson said on ABC.

He said Leon "gave me no indication that it was anything other than he was having personal problems and was in an attempt to end his life."

"He did state that he thought at one time he was getting shot down, but apparently the Air Force were just shooting flares," the trooper said.

Calls to Watson's home were not returned.

AP writers Robert Imrie in Wausau, Wis., Todd Richmond in Madison, Wis., James Carlson in Milwaukee, Betsy Taylor and Jim Salter in St. Louis and Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed to this report.

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