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Details on 'Shoe Bomber' Released

January 22, 2003|Richard A. Serrano | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Hoping to ensure that the "shoe bomber" ends his days in prison, federal prosecutors released new details Tuesday that show Richard Reid tried six times to light a bomb in his sneakers aboard a trans-Atlantic flight a year ago, and was so determined that he melted the end of the bomb fuse.

Prosecutors also provided fresh evidence that Reid initially scouted airports and security measures for a planned bombing of an El Al Airlines flight because he was embittered with the nation of Israel. But, prosecutors said, he changed his plans and targeted American Airlines Flight 63 from Paris to this country because he became "very angry" with the U.S. military bombing in Afghanistan.

The court documents outline Reid's alleged embrace of the Al Qaeda network and the terrorism fomented against Israel and the United States by its leader, Osama bin Laden. Prosecutors noted that at the Oct. 4 plea hearing, for instance, "Reid admitted that he was a member of Al Qaeda, was pledged to Bin Laden, was an enemy of this country, and had used the explosive device in his shoe as an act of war."

However, government officials have never characterized Reid as a top soldier in the terrorist organization, but rather as a follower of the network who was so fervent that he wanted to make his own strike against the United States.

Prosecutors on Tuesday also released the contents of three e-mails that Reid allegedly left behind before boarding the flight on Dec. 22, 2001, including a will and separate messages to his mother and a man identified only as a "brother."

In the message to the "brother," Reid described an eerie dream he had about two years ago in which he was waiting for a ride in a pickup but when the truck came by, it was already full. Reid said he was angry and had to go later in a smaller car.

According to prosecutors, Reid told the "brother" that the pickup was a symbol that he was not with the airplane hijackers who struck the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Reid wrote: "i now believe that the pickup that came first was 911 as its true that i was upset at not being sent."

Reid abruptly pleaded guilty in October because he said he did not recognize the U.S. court system. He is to be sentenced on Jan. 30 in Boston, where the case is being handled in federal court.

His federal public defenders could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but they have had little to say publicly about the case.

However, his defense attorneys did say after his decision to plead guilty that the 29-year-old British citizen "has no disagreement with the facts asserted in the charges."

The government's sentencing memorandum, filed in Boston on Friday and released publicly Tuesday, urges that he be sentenced to life in prison and given no chance at parole.

In the court papers, prosecutors added that "Reid intended and attempted to kill nearly 200 innocent persons, coming within moments of inflicting on some or all of them one of the most cruel and terrifying deaths imaginable."

They pointed out that unlike the 1988 in-flight bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which scattered debris over Lockerbie, Scotland, "any wreckage from [Reid's] Flight 63 would likely lie under the stormy depths of the North Atlantic, further inhibiting rescue, recovery and investigative efforts."

Equally ominous, they said, is that "Al Qaeda would have been free to repeatedly use the same devices to destroy more commercial aircraft."

Prosecutors said Reid came up with the idea for a bomb while scouting El Al security at various airports in that region, noting that "security personnel did not check the insides of his shoes." He also considered a train bomb in Tel Aviv.

But Reid, who was born a Christian but converted to Islam, chose the United States as his intended target, telling U.S. authorities after his arrest in Boston that he was incensed over the bombing in Afghanistan.

"America is the problem; without America there would be no Israel," he allegedly told investigators. " ... America must remove its troops from our soil and keep its nose out of our business."

Once aboard Flight 63, Reid took Seat 29J, a window seat, that was supposed to have gone to an Italian passenger. Then, 2 1/2 to three hours into the flight, when the plane was over the North Atlantic and out of radio range, he removed his ankle-high shoes.

"Each shoe contained a sophisticated explosive device," prosecutors said.

The soles consisted of waffle-patterned cushioning cells and were packed with plastic explosives, the government said. A detonating cord was "laced" through the cells on the soles, and a safety fuse containing black powder ran from the detonator into the inner sole of the shoes.

"Reid took his right shoe and pulled the free end of the safety fuse through the inner sole and out of the shoe," prosecutors said.

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