The attempted shoe bombing by Richard Reid, a British national, on a Paris to Miami flight occurred more than 16 years ago but even today, passengers are made to take off their shoes as US airport security remains in reactive rather than proactive mode.
Reid was arrested after being detained on the flight when a flight attendant caught him with his shoe in his lap, a fuse attached and attempting to detonate the bomb in his shoe. He was indicted on nine counts, one of which was dropped. He pleaded guilty to eight counts in Federal Court and was sentenced to three life sentences plus 110 years and fined $2 million.
Background History: Reid was born in England on 12 August 1973. His mother was English and his father, a Jamaican, was a career criminal and that checkered background would shape Reid’s life as well.
He was arrested several times for a being a graffiti artist before moving up to street crimes and was sentenced for robbery in 1992. It was during this time in prison that he converted to Islam and became radicalized.
After his release from prison, Reid attended the same mosque in London as Zacarias Moussaoui, a convicted September 11 conspirator. At the Finsbury Park Mosque in London, his loud anti-American views attracted terrorist recruiters. Then he began to associate with Al Qaeda radicals, including Djamal Beghal, one of the leaders of the foiled plan for a 2001 suicide bombing of the American Embassy in Paris.
Between 1999 and 2000 Reid traveled to Pakistan and then Afghanistan where he received terrorist training at a camp in Afghanistan. After his return to Britain, he traveled to mainland Europe where he goes to the British consulate in Brussels, Belgium and claims he’s lost his passport and is issued a new one.
While traveling abroad, he corresponded with an address in Pakistan and reportedly was receiving his instructions from there.
Preparation For Airplane Bombing: Reid and Saajid Badat, another British national returned to Pakistan in November 2001, and subsequently travelled overland to Afghanistan. There they were issued “shoe bombs” by their al Qaeda contacts, which were casual boots that were adapted to be covertly smuggled onto aircraft before being used to destroy them.
Later forensic analysis of both bombs showed that they contained the same plastic explosive and that the respective lengths of detonator cord had come from the same lot: the cut mark on Badat’s cord exactly matched that on Reid’s. The two would-be terrorists returned separately to the United Kingdom in early December 2001. Reid went to Belgium for 10 days before catching a train to Paris on December 16.
On December 21, 2001, Reid purchased a ticket and then attempted to board a flight from Paris to Miami, Florida. He was stopped by security personnel because his dishevelled physical appearance aroused the suspicions. Also, Reid had paid for the ticket in cash and did not answer all of their questions, nor had he checked any luggage for the transatlantic flight.
However, after additional screening by the French National Police resulted in Reid’s being re-issued a ticket for a flight on the following day. He returned to the Paris airport on December 22, and boarded American Airlines Flight 63 from Paris to Miami. At that time he wearing his boots that had been packed with plastic explosives in their hollowed-out bottoms.
Near Disaster on Flight 63: As the flight was well over the Atlantic and shortly after the meal service, passengers on the flight complained of a smoke smell. One of the flight attendants, Hermis Moutardier, tried to find the source. She found Reid sitting alone near a window, attempting to light a match. Moutardier, thinking that Reid was attempting to smoke, warned him that smoking was not allowed on the airplane, and Reid promised to stop.
A few minutes later, Moutardier, decided to check on Reid and found him leaning over in his seat, and tried to get his attention, which he ignored. After she asked him what he was doing, Reid grabbed her and shoved her to the floor, revealing one shoe in his lap, a fuse leading into the shoe, and a lit match.
Moutardier tried grabbing Reid again, but the 6’4, 200 pound Reid shoved her to the floor again. This time she screamed for help. When another flight attendant, Cristina Jones, arrived the two women wrestled with him, Reid bit Jones’ thumb.
By now other passengers had heard the commotion and flocked to the flight attendant’s aid. They wrestled and subdued Reid to floor where they applied plastic handcuffs, and used belts, seatbelts and headphone cords to immobilize him. A doctor onboard gave Reid a dose on Valium that was in the aircraft’s medical kit.
The pilots diverted the flight to Logan Airport in Boston. There, the aircraft landed in the middle of a runway where the passengers were bused to the terminal and Reid was arrested by the FBI. Just by luck, the explosives didn’t ignite. It was later thought that the combination of rainy, wet weather and the perspiration of Reid’s feet had gotten the explosives wet enough to not detonate.
Legal Proceedings: Reid was initially charged with “interfering with the performance of duties of flight crew members by assault or intimidation”, a crime which carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. But on January 16, a Federal grand jury indicted him on nine counts, including attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction, attempted murder of passengers on an aircraft, and attempted homicide of US nationals overseas.
Federal law enforcement officers testified that Reid’s shoes contained 10 ounces (283 g) of explosive material characteristic of plastic explosive (C-4) which was enough to blow a hole in the fuselage and cause the plane to crash.
An FBI agent testified that forensic analysis had identified the chemicals as PETN, the primary explosive, and TATP (triacetone triperoxide), a chemical needed to detonate the bomb with a fuse and match.
After pleading not guilty to the charges, one charge was subsequently dropped.
- Attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction,
- Attempted homicide,
- Placing or transporting an explosive or incendiary device on an aircraft or public mass transportation vehicle,
- Attempted murder,
- Interference with flight crew members and attendants on an aircraft
- Attempted destruction of an aircraft or public mass transportation vehicle
- Using a destructive device during and in relation to a crime of violence,
- Attempted wrecking of an aircraft or public mass transportation vehicle.
But in October 2002, Reid pleaded guilty to the other eight charges against him. He was sentenced to three life terms plus 110 years and fined $2 million dollars. During his sentencing, Reid claimed to be a soldier of al-Qaeda and an enemy of the United States. Judge William Young put him in his place by declaring, “You are not an enemy combatant, you are a terrorist” … “You are not a soldier in any army, you are a terrorist. To call you a soldier gives you far too much stature. (he then pointed to a U.S. flag) You see that flag, Mr. Reid? That is the flag of the United States of America. That flag will be here long after you are forgotten.”
He is currently incarcerated at the Federal SuperMax Florence ADX in Colorado where the most dangerous prisoners are held.