Shoe-bomb suspect is lonely lost soul exploited by militants, aunt tells newspaper

Saturday, December 29th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LONDON (AP) _ Richard C. Reid's aunt says the man accused of trying to blow up an American Airlines jet with explosives in his shoes is a vulnerable soul who was exploited by militants and may have ``thought he was in a holy war,'' a newspaper reported Saturday.

In an interview published in the Mirror newspaper, Madeline Reid described her nephew as a lonely young man who found solace among fellow Muslims after he converted to Islam.

``They had become his family. Wouldn't you be prepared to die for your family? Most people would,'' the newspaper quoted Madeline Reid, 50, as saying. ``I believe he thought he was in a holy war.''

However, she said, ``I don't believe for a second from my conversations with him he was burning with hate for the West. I just believe he was very vulnerable and they asked him to do something.''

Reid, a 28-year-old British citizen, allegedly lit a match and tried to ignite explosives concealed in his running shoes thousands of feet above the Atlantic Ocean during a Dec. 22 flight from Paris to Miami. He was overpowered by flight attendants and passengers.

``I don't condone what he did, but he was so lost and so lonely that they were able to take over his actions in this way,'' his aunt said.

Madeline Reid, who lives in Sussex county in southern England, said she had spoken to Reid on the telephone several days before the flight. He asked her, ``Are you a Muslim yet?'' and finished the call with ``I love you, too.''

Abdul Haqq Baker, the leader of a London mosque where Reid worshipped, said this week that he fought for years to keep recruiters for extremist causes away, but that some in his congregation _ including Reid _ were lured by the rhetoric of holy war.

Reid _ the London-born son of an English mother and a Jamaican father _ converted to Islam while in prison for petty crimes and came to the Brixton Mosque in 1996, after his release, Baker said.

He said Reid's attendance at the mosque coincided with that of Zacarias Moussaoui, charged with conspiracy in the Sept. 11 attacks.

On Friday a judge in Boston ordered Reid held without bail, calling him a risk to the public. He is charged with interfering with a flight crew through intimidation or assault, which carries a maximum 20-year sentence. The FBI has indicated that additional charges are likely.