WASHINGTON – He could bench-press 315 pounds and squat more than 450 pounds as a teen-ager. As an officer in an elite unit of the Israeli army, he was trained to kill terrorists with a pen or a credit card, or just his bare hands.
On Sept. 11, he may have gotten the chance.
As fate would have it, Daniel C. Lewin, a 31-year-old Israeli-American, was seated on American Airlines Flight 11 between hijackers Mohammed Atta and Abdulaziz Alomari in the row in front of him, and hijacker Satam al-Suqami in the row behind him.
A secret Federal Aviation Administration executive summary, first uncovered by WorldNetDaily, says that al-Suqami, who would have been sitting directly behind Lewin in seat 10B, shot and killed Lewin with a single bullet.
Daniel C. Lewin
The FAA maintains the high-level report was a mistaken first draft and that Lewin was more than likely stabbed, not shot, along with American Airlines crew members on Flight 11. (Box cutters were allowed that day through airline security, which the FAA regulated, but not guns.)
But a childhood friend who served with Lewin in the Israel Defense Force says only a bullet would have stopped Lewin.
“He’d be more than a match for those skinny little (expletive),” said Brad Rephen, a New York lawyer who grew up with Lewin in Jerusalem. “With his training, he would have killed them with his bare hands.”
“I can tell you, their knives would not have stopped him,” he added. “He would have taken their knives or their box cutters away and used them against them.”
Rephen recalls Lewin’s injured hands after he returned from an Israeli anti-terrorist training course.
“They were pretty beaten up from the fighting he did,” he said. “He knew how to fight with knives and take knives away from people.”
He described Lewin, at about 5-11, 200 pounds, as “thick-boned.” He says he witnessed him bench-press more than 300 pounds and squat close to 500 pounds.
“He was very, very strong and had a lot of meat on him,” Rephen said. “They couldn’t have subdued him by slashing him. The only way they could have stopped him was by shooting him.”
Before returning to America, where he worked as an Internet company executive in Boston, the Denver-born Lewin was a captain in Sayeret Matkal, a top-secret reconnaissance unit of the Israeli army used for special anti-terror missions such as the raid on Entebbe. In 1976, Israeli commandos rescued 103 hostages from a gang of Arab terrorists at the airport in the Ugandan capital.
Lewin went on dozens of such missions, friends say. In the ’80s, for example, he helped rescue thousands of Jews stranded in Ethiopia. His outfit – Unit 269 – secured the airport there during the airlift operation, friends say.
Rephen called Lewin “the best of the best.”
“About 2,500 guys try out for the unit he was in,” he said. “Twenty-five make it, and one gets chosen as an officer. It was him.”
He was also extremely tough and determined, Rephen says.
He recalls an earlier time, during basic military training, when Lewin fell into a ravine and was knocked unconscious and rushed to the hospital.
“He was back the next day,” Rephen said.
He guesses that Lewin, who understood Arabic, sensed something was wrong on Flight 11 the moment he took his seat next to the three terrorists, including Atta, the ringleader.
“He probably picked up that they were on a suicide mission by what they were saying or wearing,” Rephen said.
“Hamas and other Islamic terrorist groups put on headbands as badges of their death,” he added. “If they put that stuff on, and he saw it, he would have known the ride was over.”
And then he would have made his move.
“If I know Danny, when he realized what they were doing, he attacked them,” Rephen said. “He probably cursed them in Arabic to scare them, and then he hurt them.”
He speculates that during the struggle with Atta and the other hijacker sitting in front of Lewin in row 8, al-Suqami shot him from behind.
“I have no doubt they got a gun on the plane as a backup for a situation like that,” Rephen said, speculating that they either brought it on board the plane, likely in pieces, or had it planted there earlier by ground services crew.
The FAA report, though very specific, does not indicate whether Lewin was killed during a struggle or while sitting in his seat. Whatever happened, it likely went down within 15 minutes or so of takeoff. Authorities say the pilots were overpowered by then.
Rephen, like other Lewin friends and associates contacted by WorldNetDaily, doubts the report of gunfire was written in error.
“If this were an error, they wouldn’t have been so fact-specific,” Rephen said.
The FBI says the Lewin incident is still under investigation.
“I don’t think we know for sure right now if he was killed” on board the flight, said FBI spokesman Paul Bresson. “All of this is something we’re trying to figure out ourselves.”
Attempts to reach Lewin’s family were unsuccessful. His wife and children live in the Boston area, and his parents, both doctors, and two younger brothers live in Israel.