Alleged shoe bomber accused of being trained al-Qaida terrorist in federal indictment

Thursday, January 17th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BOSTON (AP) _ The British man accused of sneaking explosives onto a trans-Atlantic flight by hiding them in his shoes was trained in Afghanistan by the al-Qaida terrorist network, a new indictment alleges.

The nine-count indictment, issued by a federal grand jury in Boston on Wednesday, alleges Richard Reid, 28, attempted to kill the 197 passengers and crew aboard a Paris-to-Miami American Airlines flight Dec. 22 before he was tackled and the jetliner was diverted to Boston.

Reid, a convert to Islam, could get five life sentences if convicted.

The charges include attempted murder and attempted destruction of an aircraft. He also was charged with attempted wrecking of a mass transportation vehicle, a new charge created by Congress in an anti-terrorism bill enacted after the Sept. 11 attacks.

The indictment said Reid did ``attempt to use a weapon of mass destruction ... consisting of an explosive bomb placed in each of his shoes.'' It also said he ``received training from al-Qaida in Afghanistan.''

But the indictment provided no other details about Reid's alleged ties to the network.

In a statement, Tamar Birckhead, one of Reid's court-appointed attorneys, said the indictment does not accuse Reid of acting for a terrorist group.

``We note that the indictment does not allege that any of the crimes charged were committed on behalf of or to further the cause of al-Qaida or any other terrorist organization. We are aware of no basis for such an allegation,'' Birckhead said.

Reid has been held without bail since his arrest Dec. 22 on the lesser charge of interfering with a flight crew. He is scheduled to be arraigned Friday in U.S. District Court in Boston.

``The charges contained in the indictment are exceptionally serious and reflective of our intention to prosecute Richard Reid to the fullest extent of the law,'' said Michael J. Sullivan, U.S. attorney for Massachusetts.

Attorney General John Ashcroft said in Washington that the charges ``alert us to a clear, unmistakable threat that al-Qaida could attack the United States again.''

``We must be prepared. We must be ready. We must be vigilant,'' he said.

A U.S. official said Reid may be an al-Qaida target scout, and an Israeli official said it was possible Reid was gathering intelligence for large-scale terrorist attacks in Tel Aviv and other cities. Both spoke on condition of anonymity.

Reid converted to Islam while in prison for petty crimes. He later worshipped at the same London mosque as Zacarias Moussaoui, charged with conspiracy in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Reid's travels match those of an al-Qaida operative known as Abdul Ra'uff, which are listed in a computer obtained in Afghanistan by The Wall Street Journal. The similarities in the two's movements in Europe and the Middle East have led investigators to suspect they are the same person.

Like the operative, Reid obtained a new British passport in Amsterdam, the paper said, and had flown from Amsterdam to Tel Aviv on an El Al flight.

The operative scouted locations for attacks throughout the Jewish state, and from there proceeded to do the same in Egypt, said the paper. He concluded that it was possible to move explosives from the West Bank town of Bethlehem to Jerusalem because soldiers did not check the travel bag of a British passport-bearer.

Earlier this week, a U.S. military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said one of the al-Qaida prisoners at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, had identified Reid as someone he had trained with at a camp run by al-Qaida.