The man who tried to blow up an American airplane has been identified as Richard Reid, age 28, a small-time British criminal. He was identified by British police from fingerprints sent by the FBI. He was born in southeast London in 1973. His mother Lesley is English and his father Colvin is Jamaican.
He belonged to a mosque in a poor area of London that was also attended by one of the suspected terrorists behind the September 11 attacks. His mother came to the mosque looking for her son several months ago after he went to Pakistan and stopped communicating with his family
The leader of his mosque in Brixton says Reid was incapable of acting alone and was probably on a test mission for a new terrorist technique when he tried to detonate the C4 plastic explosive packed into his shoes on American Airlines Flight 63 from Paris to Miami last Saturday. He was overpowered by passengers and the crew.
He first arrived at the Brixton Mosque several years ago and was known by the name Abdel Rahim. He is believed to have served time in several prisons and converted to Islam while in custody. He joined the Arabic classes at the mosque and was proficient enough to write to fellow worshippers in Arabic when he went abroad.
While at the mosque, it?s suspected that he became influenced by another worshipper named Zacarias Moussaoui, a Frenchman of Moroccan origin who lived in the same part of London.. Moussaoui has been charged with conspiracy in the September 11 attacks and is suspected of being the ?20th hijacker,? who was prevented from being part of the attacks because he was detained for behaving suspiciously at a flight school. Another worshipper was Shahid Butt, who was jailed for five years in Yemen for joining a group of British Muslims who plotted to attack the British Consulate and a Christian church.
The mosque chairman, AbdulHaqq Baker, says of Moussaoui, ?We saw quite a stark change in him. He became infuriatingly arrogant. He would try and speak to other unsuspecting youths about his view. We would try and stop him. He kept asking us, ?Do you know where there is jihad which I can fight?? He would wear military gear and a rucksack showing he wasn?t sleeping in a fixed place.? As for Reid, Baker says, ?He was an amiable, happy-go-lucky individual, always wanting to get involved in things and helping. He was very keen to learn the basics of Islam.?
Brixton Mosque is in an old house across from a police station. The average age of worshippers is only 30. It is multicultural, unlike most London mosques, which tend to serve a single community such as Pakistanis or Arabs. Most of the worshippers are converts to Islam. Baker is a black man who became a Muslim only 12 years ago and has spent eight years in charge of the mosque. He says he teaches an orthodox form of Islam which condemns terrorism and suicide bombings. This position has earned him hostility from extremists. ?They hate us,? he says. ?They call us infidels and say our wives can be taken as concubines.?
The imam of the extremist Finsbury Park Mosque in North London says the Brixton Mosque is held in contempt by radicals. It?s ?in cloud-cuckoo-land,? he says. ?Their Islam is a half-baked religion. It is chi-chi Islam. We have many, many differences with them. It is very funny to think (the shoe bomber) might come from their mosque. They would be the last to condone such a thing. They are far away from all the realities of the world.?
Baker feels Reid wasn?t capable of devising the plot to blow up the aircraft without help from fellow conspirators and was being used as a guinea pig for their new terrorist plan. ?No way could he do this on his own,? says Baker. ?He doesn?t have the capacity to think, ?I?m going to get these explosives, I know where to get these explosives from, I?ll put them in my shoe.? He was a testing ground. If he had succeeded they would know this is a mechanism that works. If the plane had exploded there would have been very little trace of how that happened.?
The mosque found Reid a job making incense sticks for Black Crescent, a company that provides employment for Muslims. ?He was a regular south-east London youngster,? says Baker. ?He was very streetwise. He used street slang.?
At first came for prayer wearing fashionable clothes. He had just started growing a beard when he first arrived at the mosque, and he let it grow to full-length, then began wearing traditional Muslim clothes. ?By the time he left he was clearly arguing for this fight with the non-Muslims and this warped understanding of jihad,? Baker says. ?Some of my colleagues remember clearly the heated discussions they had with him saying this belief in jihad is wrong.?
Muslims make up a large percentage of black inmates in U.S. prisons, but there has never been evidence that they have been recruited for terrorist activities. They are the fourth largest group of inmates in prisons in England and Wales, and their numbers doubled between 1993 and 2000.
A U.K. Prison Service spokeswoman says, ?We are not able to prevent people converting to another faith. The only way we would pick up a change of faith from Christian to Muslim would be if someone asked for a Muslim diet.?
Reid seemed confused as he was being charged before a federal court in Boston on Christmas Eve. When asked whether he swore to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, he shrugged. When asked, ?Is that a yes??, he replied, ?Yeah.? When the judge asked him if he understood the charge ?of using intimidation or assault to interfere with the performance of flight attendants? and that it carried a maximum prison sentence of 20 years followed by three years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine, he simply nodded. He is being held without bail and is in solitary confinement under a suicide watch. He will undergo tests to evaluate his mental competence before he reappears in court.
Officials are still trying to explain why they allowed Reid on to American Airlines Flight 63 despite hours of questioning. Police were alerted to his bizarre behavior by airline security staff when he originally tried to board the flight on Friday. Although he was closely questioned by security officials, they failed to notice the explosives in his shoes. While he was being questioned at the airport, he missed the flight.
When Reid first tried to board Flight 63 on Friday, his appearance and behavior prompted the private security firm, ICTS, which is employed by American Airlines in Paris, to alert French police. He had no luggage and appeared nervous, security officers say. ?Our staff drew the attention of the French authorities to this passenger and it was only after clarification of the situation by the authorities that he was authorized to take his place aboard,? says Don Carty, president of American Airlines.
He had a ticket for a round trip to Miami and then to Antigua, and told officers that he intended to visit his family on the West Indian island. He had no luggage and was carrying only a small backpack containing a magazine, a Walkman, Arab music cassettes and verses from the Koran. He said he had clothes and belongings in the Caribbean. The ticket had been paid for in cash at a travel agency in Paris.
Police checked his passport, which they say is authentic, and his identity. ?He was not on a register of people who have committed offences or who are wanted for questioning,? says a French police spokesman. ?So we had no reason to detain him.?
He was put up for the night in the four-star Copthorne Hotel near Paris, which costs approx. $250 a night, paid for by American Airlines. The hotel staff heard him praying in his room. The next morning, he was allowed to board another flight to Miami. He was not body-searched and he went though detectors which, like those in most other airports, can detect only metal objects. The French Government has said it?s too expensive to install machines that can detect explosives, but now they may change their minds. No U.S. airport has machines that can detect plastic explosives.
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