December 27, 2001

Shoe Bomb Suspect's Lawyers See No Terror Links

BOSTON (Reuters) -- The court-appointed lawyers for Richard Reid, the man suspected of trying to blow up a Paris-to-Miami flight with explosives in his shoes, said they had no evidence connecting his acts to a wider plot though seemingly contradictory information emerged Thursday.

``We are unaware of any evidence to support a link between the offense charged and any terrorist organization or individual,'' Tamar Birckhead of the Boston Federal Public Defender's office said in a statement issued late on Wednesday.

Reid, 28, a Briton, was in federal custody under 24-hour observation near Boston awaiting a new court hearing Friday. He was arrested after being overpowered by passengers and crew on American Airlines Flight 63 from Paris Saturday.

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. The flight was diverted to Boston.

U.S. law enforcement officials have charged Reid with interference with a flight crew, but have indicated further charges were likely.

The attempted attack fueled concerns among holiday travelers already nervous in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 hijack plane attacks in the United States that killed more than 3,000 people.

Investigators in the United States and several European countries were urgently probing Reid's past for any links to the al Qaeda network of Osama bin Laden, accused of masterminding the attacks. Officials have not disclosed any links but new details about the suspect have been emerging daily including information about Reid that appeared to link him with al Qaeda.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that al Qaeda fighters in U.S. custody had identified Reid as a trainee of the guerrilla network.

``His face has been recognized by some people being detained as somebody they had seen in Afghanistan,'' the newspaper quoted an unnamed official as saying.

Federal law enforcement officials in Washington told Reuters they were checking but could not confirm the report, which has fed fears that Reid's attempted attack may have been planned as a new assault in the wake of Sept. 11.

Also on Thursday, Israel's El Al airline acknowledged Reid had flown to Israel in July and underwent a security check that included his body, luggage and shoes.

Israeli newspapers reported Reid spent a week in Israel and then left for Egypt.

Separately, a spokesman for the Dutch BVD security service said it was investigating reports Reid had obtained his shoes in Amsterdam.

Reid's mother also expressed shock about the events.

``As any mother would be, she is deeply shocked and concerned about the allegations made against her son, but has no further comment,'' Lesley Hughes said in a statement released through lawyers in Bristol, England.

In another reported possible link to al Qaeda, Reid worshiped at the same London mosque as Zacarias Moussaoui, a Frenchman of Morrocan descent who is the only person charged in the United States with being part of the Sept. 11 plot.

``The fact that they belong to the same mosque obviously would be of interest,'' said one official. ``But I'm not aware of anything that's been determined as of yet.''

Copyright 2001. Reuters. All rights reserved.

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