The Shoe Bomber's World


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Reid certainly seems to have had friends in strange places. In January the Wall Street Journal published an astonishing tale. Journal reporters in Kabul purchased a secondhand computer whose hard drive contained thousands of files written by al-Qaeda members. One file was a detailed account of the travels last summer of "Abdul Ra'uff," who flew from the Netherlands to Israel, Egypt and Turkey scouting locations for terrorist attacks. Abdul Ra'uff's itinerary matched one known to have been taken at the same time by Reid. FBI analysts now firmly believe that Reid and Ra'uff are the same man. Moreover, in the past two weeks, European investigators have linked Reid to some of the best-known terrorist cells on the continent.

The story of Richard Reid, however, is about more than one failed terrorist attempt. An investigation of Reid's case by TIME has underlined a truth that experts on terrorism know very well, even if you rarely hear it mentioned by officials in the Bush Administration. As the fighting in Afghanistan winds down, the Administration seems ready to prosecute the war against terrorism and its state supporters elsewhere--in the Philippines, Somalia or even Iraq. But the heartland of Islamic extremist terrorism is now western Europe, where U.S. military power has less to offer by way of a solution. That's why understanding Richard Reid's world is so important.


Reid was not born to Islam; he is a convert with a convert's zeal. His grandfather was a Jamaican immigrant to Britain, and his father Colvin Robin Reid met and married Lesley Hughes, a white woman who was the daughter of an accountant and magistrate. Richard was born in London in 1973, by which time his father, known as Robin, was in jail for car theft. All told, Robin has spent about 20 years behind bars. "I've seen the inside of most of London's prisons," he says. "I was no great example to my son."

Richard's parents divorced when he was 11. He left school at 16, as soon as he legally could. By then he had drifted into the south London world of street crime and car theft. At 17, after mugging a senior citizen, he was jailed for the first time. In the next few years, Richard was in and out of prison, and when he bumped into his father in a shopping mall seven or eight years ago, he seemed depressed and downhearted. "He was born here in Britain, like I was," says Robin. "It was distressing to be told things like 'Go home, nigger!'" For once Robin, who had converted to Islam while in prison in the 1980s, had a suggestion that seemed to make sense. Muslims, he says, "treat you like a human being." Plus, he says, they get better food in prison. Richard took his father's advice. The next time he was incarcerated, he converted.

In so doing, Reid became a member of the fastest-growing religion in Britain. Nobody has an accurate count of the number of British Muslims--estimates range from 1.5 million to 2.5 million--but they run the gamut of all social classes. In the West End of London, rich playboys from the gulf states are staples of the clubbing scene. In rundown mill towns in the north of England, by contrast, thousands of native Pakistanis struggle in an environment where jobs are scarce, racism is rampant and arranged marriages are the norm.

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