Kamal Abou-Zakia, a waiter at a Georgetown restaurant, had planned to take his wife and children to their native Beirut for the summer.
But Federal Aviation Administration police, working overtime and scrutinizing every package they see, arrested him Tuesday afternoon when a shotgun and ammunition were found in one of the 14 pieces of luggage he had checked for his flight.
After a thorough check by FBI agents yesterday indicated that Abou-Zakia probably had no connection to any terrorist group, he was released on $1,000 bond. United States Magistrate Quin S. Elson told him to relinquish his passport until his case is settled.
Abou-Zakia said he planned to use the gun only for hunting.
"It's better to be too safe than let dangerous material get by," said Thomas Berger, first assistant U.S. attorney in Alexandria. "Obviously, we can't be too careful with weapons at airports. Security will be tightened considerably."
At first, federal law enforcement officers thought the case was serious. But by yesterday afternoon they agreed that Abou-Zakia, a naturalized U.S. citizen who lives with his wife and three children in Falls Church, had fallen victim to the FAA's response to the wave of terrorist attacks and hijackings.
"We are more vigilant now than we ever have been at this airport," said Thomas Holderness, station commander for the National Airport Police. "We are doing whatever we can to cut down the risks."
New FAA guidelines designed to tighten security and intensify the screening of passengers on certain flights went into effect yesterday, according to airport police. Among the new measures are a "visible increase in physical inspection," for all carry-on items and the abolition of curbside check-in for all international flights.
In an unrelated incident, three men identified as members of the staff of the president of Tunisia were removed from a Paris-bound flight at Dulles Airport Tuesday night when one of them told a flight attendant that he had a bomb in his bag.
No bomb was found, but the flight was delayed for two hours while crews searched bags belonging to the three men, who were later released after claiming diplomatic immunity. Joking about having a bomb on an airplane is a federal offense.
Abou-Zakia, who was booked with his family on a Ransome Airlines flight to New York that connected with a flight to Lebanon, was taken into custody at National Airport at about 2 p.m. Tuesday, according to the FBI. His checked luggage was found to contain a 12-gauge pump shotgun, a BB gun, 48 rounds of shotgun ammunition and 150 rounds of .45-caliber pistol ammunition.
Federal statutes prohibit the transportation of explosive devices on airplanes without the agreement of the airline. If convicted, Abou-Zakia could be sentenced to up to six months in jail and a $500 fine. The U.S. attorney's office said that it had not yet decided whether to seek a jail sentence in the case, and a hearing was set for July 10.
Abou-Zakia, who was born and reared in Beirut and has lived in the United States for 8 years, said that he had no idea he was breaking the law.
FAA police, who say they are working under difficult conditions without adequate staff, said any gun violation at an airport is taken seriously. Abou-Zakia's is the 26th alleged firearms violation so far this year at an American airport, according to FAA records.