December 26, 2001

Shoe Bomber Suspect Seen as Misguided Radical

BOSTON (Reuters) -- The man suspected of trying to blow up a Paris-Miami flight over the Atlantic was portrayed on Wednesday as a gullible disciple of radical Islam who could be one of many such converts waiting to launch terror attacks.

Richard Reid, 28, a Briton, was under 24-hour guard in Boston awaiting a new court hearing on Friday after he was overpowered by flight attendants and fellow-passengers on American Airlines Flight 63 from Paris on Saturday.

He was tied up with belts and headphone cables after flight attendants saw him apparently trying to set fire to his shoes, which were later found to be packed with explosives and a

detonator cord.

Donald Carty, chief executive of American Airline's parent AMR Corp., said airline employees in Paris had told French authorities they were suspicious of Reid but the French cleared him and he was allowed to board the flight.

``(Airline employees) were so concerned about the authenticity of his passport Friday that he was delayed and actually missed his flight that day,'' Carty said in a Christmas message to staff.

``Our people brought the passenger to the attention of French authorities. It was only after those authorities cleared him that he was allowed to board the flight Saturday,'' he said.

But French border police have sought to place blame for any security breach on the airline. ``The police are in charge of border transit controls. Security checks are the airlines' responsibility,'' Le Monde newspaper quoted Fulvio Raggi, the head of the PAF border police, as saying.


U.S. officials in Boston said after Reid was detained on Saturday that they thought his British passport, issued in Belgium three weeks earlier, was fake.

New details of Reid emerged on Wednesday when the chairman of a mosque in the Brixton district of south London said the suspect had been a worshipper there before being seduced by the propaganda of Muslim extremists.

``The way he tried to commit this act shows his gullibility,'' Abdul Haqq Baker said, describing Reid as a guinea pig for other militants bent on terror attacks.

``He was sent as a tester. We here at the center honestly believe there are more serious things to come and we have told the police that. I would say he was very, very impressionable,'' Baker told reporters.

In a later interview with CNN, Baker said Reid had rung mental alarm bells when he became fixed on the idea of jihad, or holy war.

``What was wrong for example with killing innocent civilians, what was wrong with terrorism and suicide bombings, what was wrong with the understanding that we were living in the West and this is a place of war. This was the sort of thing that alerted us,'' Baker said.

The FBI also thinks Reid's ``shoe bombs'' were sophisticated enough to suggest he had an accomplice, The Boston Globe reported Tuesday. Establishing whether the suspect acted alone has been a main focus of the FBI investigation.

Baker told reporters in Brixton that Reid, who was known to him as Abdel Rahim, was recruited by militants in London's Muslim community.

``If they have got the likes of Rahim, there are a lot more and we are very concerned about that,'' Baker said.

Earlier, he told BBC Radio that Reid had come to the mosque for instruction having converted to Islam in prison. ``He was a very amiable, cooperative individual in the early part ... Toward the end of his period with us, we noticed a change.''

Baker said it was possible Reid knew Zacarias Moussaoui, a Frenchman of Moroccan descent who also spent time in Brixton.

Moussaoui faces conspiracy charges in the United States in connection with the Sept. 11 suicide hijacking attacks on New York and Washington.

Some of the 19 hijackers who died flying planes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon passed through Britain at different times. Moussaoui has been dubbed the ``20th hijacker.''

The weekend drama over the Atlantic raised fears of another attack like those launched on Sept. 11, which have been blamed on the al Qaeda network of Osama bin Laden.


Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal Timothy Bane said Reid was being held in isolation under constant surveillance at the Plymouth County jail.

``I would describe it as 24-hour watch at the request of the Marshal's service based on his behavior on the plane and after his arrest,'' Bane said, declining to elaborate.

Bane said Reid was generally ``very quiet'' and was taking his meals. He is allowed one hour of exercise a day.

The London Times newspaper said Reid was born in 1973 in Bromley, southeast London, to an English mother and a Jamaican father.

Flight 63 was not the first time explosives have been smuggled onto a plane in someone's shoes, which often escape scanning by airport security.

In 1995, Ramzi Yousef concealed time-bomb components in the heels of his shoes and then assembled the device on board a Philippines Airline flight.

Yousef, now in jail in the United States for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, left the plane and set the bomb to explode on the next leg of the flight. It went off, killing a passenger, but the pilot was able to land the plane safely.

Copyright 2001. Reuters. All rights reserved.

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