On December 22, 2001--a little over three months after the September
11, 2001 attacks--Richard Colvin Reid attempted to blow up American
Airlines Flight 63 from Paris to Miami.
Reid is a citizen of the United Kingdom who was born in London in
1974; he has a British mother and a Jamaican father. He had a
long history of petty crime, and apparently converted to Islam while in
a juvenile prison; he subsequently joined the Finsbury Park Mosque,
which some people believe to be a hotbed of radical Islam (Zacarias
Moussaoui apparently went there, as did some of the people allegedly
involved in the bombing of the USS Cole). He apparently adopted the
name Abdel Raheem at some point after converting to Islam, though
his passport still bore his original name. Other sources have
identified him as Tariq Raja of Sri Lanka, though the Sri Lankans
have stated that Reid is not a Sri Lankan national.
On December 21st, Reid attempted to board Flight 63 to Paris, but the
French authorities refused to let him on board after he refused to answer any questions; he also seemed suspicious because he checked no
baggage. After checking his passport, the French National Police decided
he was legitimate and allowed him to board the plane the next day.
At 11 AM Eastern Standard Time on December 22, the plane was about 2
hours away from Boston when flight attendants noticed
the smell of a burnt match. A passenger called their attention to Reid,
who was sitting in the middle of the coach section; when a flight
attendant confronted him, Reid put a match into his mouth. She went to
the front of the cabin to alert the captain on the intercom, and when she
returned to Reid, she noticed that he had lit yet another match and was
attempting to ignite a wire coming out of the tongue of his
sneakers. The flight attendant then tackled him, but
they could not subdue him by herself; Reid threw her into a bulkhead and
then knocked her to the floor (he is close to two meters tall and
is reportedly extremely strong). The first flight attendant ran for water
(to put out any fires, presumably) while a second flight attendant tried to subdue him; she was bitten on the thumb. Other passengers jumped in to
help, and Reid was ultimately subdued, strapped to a chair with seat belts, and heavily sedated for the remainder of the flight.
The crew remained frightened as they were unsure whether the sneakers
could explode on their own. The pilot recalled his reaction:
"I took them up to the front ... and one of the dumbest
things I ever did was to call the cockpit and say, 'I'm coming in with
something.' On the way in, I realized that I smelled the cord, and I see
the burnt end. And I say, 'Oh my gosh, this is what he was
trying to light. This is not a shoe. It's a bomb.'"
After realizing the situation, the crew moved the device to the back of
the plane, wrapping it in blankets and pillows to
absorb any explosion (this would probably have been futile, but it was all
they could do). One flight attendant said that "we made sure no one came near it...(but) of course, every time the airplane made a little jolt, it
was a little disturbing to say the least."
The plane made an emergency landing in Boston while escorted by two
fighter jets. Subsequent analysis of Reid's sneakers showed that they
contained the explosives TATP and PETN, along with a fuse containing
Reid told investigators that he constructed the shoe bomb by using
explosives purchased in Amsterdam and a recipe from the Internet.
He originally claimed to have been working alone, but later evidence
suggested otherwise: someone else's hair samples and fingerprints were
found on the bombs (maybe these belonged to the Amsterdam salesman?), and
Reid had a phone card that had been used to call an al-Qaeda member.
Furthermore, investigators discovered e-mails that he had sent to someone
in Pakistan; he had asked for further instructions after missing the first plane.
On January 16, 2002, Reid was indicted on multiple
charges: interference with a flight crew, attempted use of a weapon of
mass destruction, attempted homicide (referring to the attempted killing
of US nationals outside the united states), placing explosive devices on
an aircraft, attempted murder (referring to the nearly 200 people of many
nationalities on the plane), attempted destruction of an aircraft, using a
destructive device during and in relation to a crime of violence, and
attempted wrecking of a mass transportation device. Reid entered a
plea of not guilty to all charges.
Reid's father Robin suggested that alienation and rejection played a
role in his son's turn to crime. Robin Reid stated that nobody accepted
him or his son, because they are of mixed race; he states that his son
found solace in Islam because "the Muslim faith accepts you as you are."
He also stated that Richard went off to Afghanistan "to follow the
Muslim faith" (Richard Reid himself says he never made it there); he did not see his son again until his picture turned up in the newspaper on
Christmas Eve. He suggested that his son probably did not come up with
the bomb plot himself, but was instead "a determined boy" who must have
been "brainwashed" by fanatics.
Subsequently, investigators discovered that on December 20th, he
emailed a will to his mother that partially explained his reason for the
(W)hat I am doing is part of the ongoing war between Islam and
disbelief, (and as such a duty upon me as a Muslim)....The reason for me
sending you (this document) is so you can see that I didn't do this act
out of ignorance nor did I just do it because I want to die, but rather
because I see it as a duty upon me to help remove the oppressive American
forces from the Muslim land and that this is the only way for us to do so
as we do not have other means to fight them...
On October 2, 2002, Reid announced his intent to plead guilty to all
federal charges; he also claimed that he was a supporter of al-Qaeda.
When he entered his plea, he laughed and stated "At the end of the day, I
know I did the actions....Basically I got on a plane with a bomb.
Basically I tried to ignite it....I'm a follower of Osama bin Laden. I'm
an enemy of your country and I don't care."
On January 30, 2003, U.S. District Court Judge William Young
pronounced sentence on Reid.
He sentenced Reid to life in prison on three counts: one count of attempted
use of a weapon of mass destruction and two counts of interference with
flight crew by using a dangerous weapon. Reid was also sentenced to 20
years in jail on each of four counts: attempted homicide of U.S. nationals
outside the United States; placing an explosive device on an aircraft;
attempted murder of people on board the flight; and attempted destruction
of an aircraft. Reid was also fined $2 million for his crimes (he
probably can't pay a dime, but in some cases such fines can be levied against money defendants earn from book deals, TV appearances, and the
like). The sentences are to be served consecutively, meaning (one hopes)
that he will never leave prison.
Information culled from various news sources. All writing (except, of
course, for direct quotations) is my own.