The Shoe Bomber's World


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It was the scream that people noticed. Monique Danison, an American college student, had just finished lunch on American Airlines Flight 63 from Paris to Miami when she heard a woman cry out in terror. "When someone screams the way she did," says Danison, "you know something bad is happening."

Bad is right. Richard Reid, a British passenger on the Boeing 767, was trying to light a fuse protruding from his shoe, witnesses say. According to the FBI, packed in the sole were enough high explosives to blow a hole in the fuselage of the aircraft. But the attempted bombing was foiled. Two flight attendants struggled with the tall, unkempt man after one of them noticed the sulfurous smell of a lighted match. Danison remembers one of the attendants crying, "Oh, my God! Somebody help me!" and then calling for "water, contact solution, anything you have." Passengers passed cups and glasses back to the scene. One of the attendants poured a bottle of water over Reid, who was then restrained with passengers' belts and sedated with drugs from the onboard medical kit. For the rest of the tense flight--the captain had warned that Reid might have accomplices onboard--passengers and crew guarded their prisoner, one of them keeping a grip on his long ponytail. Escorted by Air Force fighters, Flight 63 was diverted to Boston, where Reid was taken into custody. He was denied bail on Dec. 28, and is awaiting trial in Plymouth, Mass.

Immediately after the incident, it was tempting to view Reid more as a lone nut than a cog in a terrorist machine. On Dec. 21, when he first tried to fly to Miami, he raised enough concerns--he paid for his ticket in cash and had no checked bags--that airport officials questioned him so long that he missed the flight. When he showed up the next day, his appearance--long-haired, disheveled, druggie--seemed almost calculated to draw attention. At the boarding gate, says Annie Joly, a Frenchwoman on the flight, "I was immediately struck by how bizarre he looked." After Reid's arrest, the bare bones of his life as a small-time London crook came out, and he claimed to have made the bomb from a recipe on the Internet. He seemed to be what he looked like, the ultimate loser.

Few now think Reid was a bungling amateur. On Jan. 16, a U.S. federal grand jury indicted Reid on nine counts, including use of a weapon of mass destruction and attempted murder. He has pleaded not guilty. The indictment alleges that Reid received training at camps in Afghanistan run by al-Qaeda, the organization headed by Osama bin Laden. The bomb inside his shoe was a sophisticated one. In fact, it turns out to be a favorite of European al-Qaeda operatives. Both FBI and French law-enforcement sources tell TIME there were palm prints and hair on the shoe that didn't belong to Reid. Clearly he had had help.

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