A New Jersey man on board a cross-country airplane molested a fellow passenger as she slept in the seat beside him, police say.
Bawer Aksal allegedly pushed his hands into the napping woman’s pants and shirt as they traveled on the United Airlines Newark-bound craft from Phoenix on Monday August 20.
The 48-year-old leant in close, groping the woman, whispering ‘kiss me’ in her ear.
She had fallen asleep beside Aksal, to whom she was not acquainted, a jacket draped across her legs.
Waking up, the alarmed woman shouted for him to stop, alerting cabin crew who arranged for Aksal to be taken into custody.
Police arrested him when the plane landed and charged with sexual abuse. If convicted he could be facing life imprisonment.
He admitted touching the woman but was adamant she had forced his hand into her crotch, according to NJ.com.
A witness, who was also sat beside Aksal, said that the woman appeared to be sleeping and that he had seen Aksal’s hand resting beneath her jacket.
The accused attacker’s bail was set at $100,000 and he was scheduled to appear for a bail hearing on Friday.
If released he must surrender all travel documents and be under the watch of a third-party custodian, a judge ruled.
Additionally he must adhere to a 24/7 lockdown in his North Bergen home, NJ.com reported, wear a device that enables electronic monitoring and only travel within New Jersey.
He has been ordered to abstain from contact with the alleged victim or anyone else involved in the case.
Aksal, an ethnic Kurd, fled Turkey years ago and was denied bail at his first court appearance because he was deemed to be a flight risk.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Harris, argued that as a Turkish-born U.S. citizen with few stateside assets, at least two passports and facing up to life in prison on the sex abuse charge, he was a flight risk with a strong motive to flee to Turkey.
Defense attorney Robert DeGroot countered that his client had written articles critical of the Turkish government and had no desire to return to Turkey, where Kurdish rebels are fighting for autonomy in the Kurdish-dominated southeast.
He said his client had lived in the U.S. for more than 30 years with no criminal record or problems of any kind.
DeGroot said Aksal denied abusing the woman and disputed claims in the criminal complaint that he had admitted to authorities that he had touched the woman but had told them it was consensual. DeGroot argued that the scenario, on a crowded plane, was highly unlikely.
‘If I was on a plane and someone reached into my trousers, I would wake up and complain vociferously,’ DeGroot argued to U.S. Magistrate Judge Madeline Cox Arleo during a bail hearing in Newark federal court.
Harris countered that the woman, whom prosecutors have not named because of the nature of the charges, did wake up and protest, slamming down the arm rest between her and Aksal and alerting the flight crew.
Harris said the woman, who dozed off wearing headphones and with a jacket draped across her lap, awoke to find her clothing ripped, her bra pulled down to her waist and Aksal breathing heavily and whispering for her to kiss him.
‘This was a crime of violence,’ Harris told the judge. ‘An egregious act in a commercial airliner with over 100 potential witnesses.’