New York Times
December 25,2001

Officials Remain Uncertain on Identity of Suspect on Jet


Boston -- Federal officials said today that the man who tried to ignite explosives in his shoes on a flight from Paris to Miami on Saturday had no known address, and investigators in the United States and Europe struggled to determine his identity, nationality and motive.

In Paris today, the French border police were at pains to explain how they let the man onto American Airlines Flight 63, after they detained him for questioning on Friday because he tried to board the same flight without baggage. They finally decided to let him fly, but since the delay made him miss his flight, he stayed at a hotel near the airport and caught the same flight on Saturday without hindrance.

The man, identified in a federal affidavit as Richard C. Reid, 28, appeared this morning in federal court in Boston, where the plane made an emergency landing on Saturday after passengers and crew members tackled Mr. Reid as he tried to set the tongue of his shoe on fire.

In court, Mr. Reid, who is about 6 feet 4 inches tall, was slouching, his eyes cast down, his long brown hair unkempt, his beard scraggly. Instead of the black suede high-top sneakers that the authorities say concealed explosives and detonation cord, Mr. Reid wore prison-issue slippers and an orange prison jumpsuit. His feet tapped and jiggled slightly while he waited for the federal magistrate, Judith Dein, to enter.

Mr. Reid appeared without a lawyer, but when asked if he would like one appointed for him, he said yes. He nodded when Judge Dein asked him if he understood the charges against him, using intimidation or assault to interfere with the performance of flight attendants.

Mr. Reid was ordered held in federal custody pending a detention hearing on Friday. He is under constant watch at a jail in Plymouth, Mass., and will undergo a psychiatric evaluation before the hearing.

Mr. Reid has not been charged with possession of explosives, but the United States attorney in Boston, Michael J. Sullivan, characterized the charges filed on Sunday as "initial." When asked whether he swore to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, Mr. Reid simply shrugged. He was then asked, "Is that a yes?," and Mr. Reid replied, "Yeah."

Federal officials said today that they were still uncertain if Mr. Reid was acting alone or as part of a conspiracy and whether he had links to Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups. They said they hoped that when they identified the type of explosive in the shoes it might give clues to the country of origin and could help explain whether Mr. Reid needed help to carry out his plan.

Officials said that additional tests were being performed on the explosives. On Sunday, Massachusetts State Police officials said they believed that the material was C4, an explosive used in the past by Al Qaeda and other terrorists.

Edward M. Arnett, a retired chemistry professor from Duke University, said in an interview that C4 had typically been manufactured in the Czech Republic and that by international agreement since 1989 it had been spiked with a chemical that gives off a telltale odor and is also detectable by screening machines. But Dr. Arnett, who was co-chairman of a 1998 National Academy of Science report on detecting the origin of explosive materials used in terrorist bombings, said it was now likely that some chemists could manufacture plastic explosives outside the system so that it need not contain the chemical.

Federal officials in Boston said today that the explosives found in Mr. Reid's shoes were "functional" and that the material would have been detonated if Mr. Reid had succeeded in lighting the match. No other ignition device was necessary.

Charles S. Prouty, the special agent in charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation office in Boston, said the explosives appeared to have had the potential to do significant damage to the plane.

There continued to be much confusion about Mr. Reid's identity. He was traveling on a British passport that was issued in Belgium on Dec. 7, and Mr. Sullivan, the United States attorney, said the passport appeared to be legitimate.

But Mr. Sullivan also said investigators could not say whether Richard Colvin Reid is the man's real name. Mr. Reid has no known address, Mr. Sullivan said.

Bush administration officials said some reports suggested that Mr. Reid behaved erratically and was a drifter, making it perplexing that he was able to obtain explosives.

In Britain, a Scotland Yard representative said only that "we believe he is a British citizen." The Times of London said Mr. Reid was thought to be a naturalized British citizen of Sri Lankan background. The French police said he was a Sri Lankan named Tariq Raja who also used the Muslim name Abdel Rahim.

And the Sri Lankan Embassy in Washington issued a statement today that he "is not a Sri Lankan." The statement did not explicitly deny that Mr. Reid was born in Sri Lanka.

Mr. Reid told the F.B.I. that his mother was British and his father was Jamaican.

In France, the airport police struggled to explain why Mr. Reid was not searched or sniffed by a bomb-detecting dog. News reports and the head of the border police at the airport in Paris provided some details about Mr. Reid's effort to board the plane on Friday. Agence France- Presse's account is as follows:

Mr. Reid arrived at the airport early Friday carrying a round-trip ticket for Antigua, flying via Miami, which he had bought for cash in Paris. He was questioned about his travels by an employee of ICTS, which does security checks for American Airlines. He said he was of Jamaican origin, had no address, and had recently traveled in Belgium. His passport was issued two weeks before in Belgium. His previous passport, which expired in July, was attached, and contained a visa for Israel issued in the spring.

Because he seemed evasive and had no baggage, the ICTS agent called the Air and Frontier Police.

A police specialist did not find his name on lists of people with criminal records or on a list of suspected terrorists.

"Since he didn't have a suspect passport and was not a suspect himself, we did no X-rays and did not call for a dog," said Patrick Rouby, chief of the Air and Frontier Police at Charles de Gaulle Airport.

Mr. Reid told the police he had no baggage because he had clothes at his family's home in Antigua.

Because the questioning caused him to miss his flight, he stayed at a hotel near the airport. On Saturday, he showed up for the same 10:40 a.m. flight. He was recognized by the same security employee who had stopped him on Friday, and was allowed to pass. Donald Carty, the chief executive of American Airlines, said in a statement that Mr. Reid on Saturday was selected as someone who fit the profile for extra scrutiny. The measures taken to scrutinize such a person, however, would not have detected plastic explosives. At the normal passport check, an officer who did not know what had happened the day before checked his passport and let him through.

He then went through the metal detector and put his backpack through the X-ray machine. Neither can detect plastic explosives.

Mr. Rouby said that as a result of a cabinet-level meeting this morning, more bomb-sniffing dogs would be on hand and that anyone whom the airlines deemed suspicious would be searched by hand and that a dog would be called.

In Boston, when asked whether investigators had determined that Mr. Reid did not have Al Qaeda ties, Mr. Prouty of the F.B.I. said only, "We're looking at every aspect."

Mr. Reid appears to have a few similarities to Al Qaeda operatives. His passport was issued in Brussels, where federal investigators have said they believe a Qaeda cell operated as a ring for forged documents. And trainees at Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan are taught to use C4. It was used in the October 2000 bombing of the destroyer Cole, which intelligence officials say was the work of Al Qaeda operatives.

In other ways, Mr. Reid does not appear to fit the profile of recent Al Qaeda operatives, who, like the Sept. 11 hijackers, went to great lengths to blend in with Western society.

Passengers on Flight 63 described Mr. Reid as standing out in appearance. He had long unruly brown hair tied in a ponytail, a beard and a mustache. Some said they thought that even before the incident, he seemed to be acting strangely.

"I saw him at the gate," said Amandine Mallen, 23, a real estate broker from Paris. "He was smiling. He looked like he was on drugs."

Copyright 2001, New York Times Company. All rights reserved.

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