Washington Post
January , 2002

Shoe Bomber' Suspect Pleads Not Guilty

By Pamela Ferdinand

BOSTON -- Richard Colvin Reid, the third alleged al Qaeda operative to be charged with terrorist crimes by U.S. prosecutors since Sept. 11, pleaded not guilty today to charges alleging he tried to blow up a transatlantic flight with explosives in his shoes.

Authorities say he learned the technique, which could have blown a hole in the plane's fuselage and ignited its fuel tanks, in terrorist training camps run by Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network. The United States blames al Qaeda for the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

Reid, a 28-year-old British citizen, appeared here in U.S. District Court this morning, unshaven and shackled. He spoke only to acknowledge the charges and enter his plea.

In a soft voice, he answered "not guilty" to eight of the nine charges, including trying to murder the 197 passengers and crew aboard American Airlines Flight 63 on Dec. 22, trying to use a weapon of mass destruction and placing an explosive device on an aircraft.

Defense attorneys challenged the ninth charge attempted wrecking of a mass transportation vehicle and asked Magistrate Judge Judith Dein to enter a not-guilty plea for Reid, which she did.

If convicted, Reid faces a maximum sentence of five life terms in prison. He remains in federal custody pending trial, with the next court date scheduled for March 4.

Flight attendants and passengers overpowered Reid on the Paris-to-Miami flight after he was spied allegedly trying to ignite a fuse protruding from his shoe. The flight was diverted to Boston.

"If it weren't for [the passengers and crew] this most definitely would have been a disaster," said Charles S. Prouty, special agent in charge of the FBI's office in Boston, after today's arraignment.

Reid's attorney, public defender Tamar R. Birckhead, said in a statement that the indictment, which was handed up Wednesday, does not allege that any of the crimes were committed "on behalf of, or to further the cause of, al Qaeda or any other terrorist organization."

In court today, Birckhead cited a "potential defect" in the ninth count, attempted wrecking of a mass transportation vehicle, a new charge created by Congress under the recently enacted anti-terrorism bill. Birckhead questioned whether an aircraft qualifies as a mass transportation vehicle and whether the law was intended for an attempted crime.

U.S. Attorney Michael J. Sullivan disagreed. "I think it's clear that Congress's intent was not to not allow this kind of conduct on a train and then allow it on a plane."

Copyright 2002, Washington Post Company. All rights reserved.

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