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NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — A passenger on a Newark-bound flight dozed off wearing headphones and awoke to find the hands of the stranger seated next to her inside her blouse and shorts, federal prosecutors said Wednesday.
In a criminal complaint, the U.S. attorney for New Jersey charged Bawer Aksal with sexual abuse.
Prosecutors said the North Bergen resident was sitting in the middle seat on United Airlines Flight 306 from Phoenix on Monday night when he abused the woman, who was sitting in the window seat.
The woman, whose name is being withheld by prosecutors because of the nature of the charges, told authorities she woke up to find the man had one of his hands inside her shirt touching her breasts and the other in her shorts molesting her, according to the complaint. Aksal, 48, was breathing heavily and repeatedly asked the woman to kiss him, it says.
The woman demanded the man get off her, according to the complaint, slammed down the armrest between them and reported the incident to flight personnel.
A passenger in the aisle seat, noticing the commotion, offered to help the woman, prosecutors said, and accompanied her to the back of the plane to alert the flight crew. The aisle passenger later told authorities that he had seen the woman, who appeared to be asleep and not moving, and saw the man's arm under a jacket the woman had draped across her legs.
Aksal was detained on board and was taken into custody by federal authorities at Newark Liberty International Airport, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office said. A spokesman for Chicago-based United Airlines, part of United Continental Holdings Inc., said the crew requested that authorities meet the plane at the airport.
Aksal admitted to law enforcement officers in Newark that he had touched the woman but insisted she had forced his hand into her shorts, prosecutors said.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Falk, who presided over the case Wednesday in Newark federal court, said he wanted to hold a more detailed hearing before setting bail for Aksal, who is a Turkish national with U.S. citizenship.
Aksal, who had close-cropped gray hair and wore a T-shirt and jeans while cuffed at the wrists and ankles, did not speak during his first court appearance. He was assigned a court-appointed attorney.
The sex abuse charge carries a potential sentence of life in prison and a $250,000 fine upon conviction.
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