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By Dec. 17, Reid was finally in Paris, hanging out in the Goutte d'Or neighborhood, a center of the city's Arab and African population. On Dec. 21, he made his first attempt to fly to Miami. French authorities have discovered an e-mail exchange made afterward with an interlocutor in Pakistan who urged Reid to try again the next day. "They obviously didn't want him spending a lot of time sitting around, where he might have changed his mindor been caught," says a French investigator.
Reid's movements in Paris have been traced to fast-food restaurants and Internet cafes. But French authorities have found no evidence that he stayed at a Paris hotel. This has spooked the French police, who are convinced that the bomb was made locally, implying the existence of an unknown terrorist cell in Paris. "He stayed with someone," says an investigator. "When we find that bit of thread and pull it, a lot of larger tissue will unwind."
That unwinding may have begun. Investigators are combing through the hard drives of computers in the Internet cafes from which Reid e-mailed his contacts in Pakistan. They have discovered a "testament" that Reid sent to his mother describing his "martyrdom to Islam." French sources say many of Reid's e-mails were sent to an address in Peshawar, Pakistan, which they think provides postal-drop and forwarding services for al-Qaeda operatives in Europe.
Meanwhile, Akhnouche's testimony has cheered French officials. "His address book is a veritable resource of Islamist operatives," says one. And European officials tell Time that Reid's old prepaid telephone cards have been discovered. One was used to place calls to the cell phone of Nizar Trabelsi, the alleged would-be bomber of the U.S. embassy in Paris. (Trabelsi has denied that he was ever part of a terrorist group.)
As authorities pick away at Reid's case, the web of terror in Europe is slowly beginning to become clear. The Sept. 11 attacks, the Paris plot and the attempt to destroy Flight 63 all share a common cast of characters. Reid seems to have known Moussaoui, Beghal and Trabelsi; Moussaoui was connected to Ramzi Binalshibh, a fugitive alleged by the FBI and German authorities to have been a member of the Hamburg cell that planned the Sept. 11 attacks; Akhnouche knew them all. A French official says, "My personal theory is that all these radical Islamists have crossed paths in Afghan camps, London or often both."
But identifying terrorists is only half the job. The real challenge is to figure out why the Muslim community in Europe has become such a rich recruiting ground for Islamic extremists. Plainly, Islam exerts an appeal to those born into the faith who feel oppressed by societies that treat them like second-class relics of European colonialism. Islam also promises something to convertslike Reid and Courtaillerwho feel marginalized by modern life. For Europeans, the presence of the terrorist networks should suggest that there is something rotten within their rich societies.
There are messages from Europe for Americans too. In the wake of the Afghanistan war, the U.S. has signaled that it will take action against terrorists and their supporters wherever they may bein Yemen or Iraq or Indonesia. Yet with the camps in Afghanistan destroyed, many of the world's most dangerous terrorists are not in the Islamic world at all but in the cities of western Europe. They will be brought to justice not by U.S. special forces or B-52 pilots but by skillful forensic work and international cooperation among criminal-justice professionals. After the triumphs in Afghanistan, it's tempting to think that the American military machine, on its own, can rid the world of terrorism. The lesson of the shoe bomber's story: it can't.
Reported by Bruce Crumley/Paris, Helen Gibson and Assif Shameen/London, James Graff/Brussels, Nadia Mustafa/New York, Andrew Rosenbaum/Amsterdam, Sean Scully/Los Angeles, Elaine Shannon/Washington and other bureaus