Shoe-bomb suspect met with al-Qaida suspects, British newspaper reports

Saturday, January 5th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LONDON (AP) _ The man accused of trying to blow up a trans-Atlantic flight with explosives hidden in his sneakers was seen in London with suspected members of the al-Qaida terrorist network, a British newspaper reported Saturday.

A worshipper at London's Finsbury Park mosque, Rashid Hussain, was quoted by The Times as saying he saw Richard C. Reid at the mosque in 1998 with Djamel Beghal and Nizar Trabelsi.

Beghal is a French-Algerian who French investigators say revealed a suicide plot to blow up the U.S. Embassy in Paris and apparently told Dubai investigators he had visited Osama bin Laden's home.

Beghal, who is in jail in France, told a French judge that he recruited through British mosques in London and Leicester.

Tunisian-born Trabelsi, a former professional soccer player, was named by Beghal as the planned suicide bomber in the Paris embassy plot. He was arrested in Belgium on Sept. 13.

``Trabelsi and Reid were physically very distinctive,'' Hussain said, according to The Times. ``Both were over 6 feet 4 inches tall. They didn't say very much. Both appeared a bit shy and always seemed to be huddled in conversation with Beghal, who was clearly the boss.''

Reid, 28, is accused of trying to blow up an American Airlines Paris-to-Miami flight on Dec. 22. He was overpowered by flight attendants and passengers as he allegedly tried to light a fuse protruding from his sneakers.

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

The mosque's leader, Abdul Haqq Baker, has said young converts there were courted by extremist groups. He suggested Reid might have had contact with more radical mosques such as the Finsbury Park mosque in north London, home of militant Egyptian-born cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri.