French authorities are reconstructing suspected shoe bomber Richard Reid's movements in Paris in the days before his alleged attempt to blow up a trans-Atlantic flight last week, believing that any information could lead them to an al Qaeda cell.
Reid was overpowered by flight attendants and passengers after allegedly trying to detonate explosives in his sneaker aboard an American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami on Saturday. French investigators have uncovered information about Reid that seems to indicate the British man was connected to Osama bin Laden's terror network.
Among that information is the evidence that Reid and the alleged "20th hijacker" in the Sept. 11 attacks, Zacarias Moussaoui, knew each other and trained in the same al Qaeda camp in Afghanistan.
People who knew Reid at the south London mosque where he worshipped after converting to Islam in a British prison say they don't believe the man was capable of coming up with the plot on his own.
Tracking Movements Around the Globe
And French intelligence officials have tracked Reid's movements over the last year, saying he traveled to Israel, Egypt, the Netherlands and Belgium, spending money freely, though he did not seem to have the income to fund the trips.
According to French authorities, Reid spent three weeks in Israel in July, where it is speculated that he was involved in plotting an attack on an El Al flight.
An El Al spokesman told Reuters today that the airline also considered Reid suspicious on the flight he took to Israel in July, but that he was cleared to fly after a check of his luggage and person. The check included Reid's shoes, the spokesman said.
"I can confirm that the shoe bomber flew to Israel in July of this year on El Al. Before check-in he went through a security check," El Al spokesman Nachman Klieman said.
According to Reuters, Israeli security sources said that they were investigating what Reid did during his time in the country. Israeli newspapers reported that Reid spent a week in the Jewish state and then left for Egypt via the Palestinian-ruled Gaza Strip.
Non-Metal Bomb With Explosive Ingredient
Meanwhile, U.S. government officials told The Associated Press that initial testing on the material found in Reid's shoes indicated the presence of PETN, an ingredient in SEMTEX, the explosive used to bring down Pan Am Flight 103. Tests also indicated that there was no metal in the shoes and that the bombing may have been foiled partly because the fuse may have been too moist.
Reid spent a few days in Egypt earlier this month, the authorities say, before going to Amsterdam. On Dec. 7, he went to Brussels, where he got a new British passport that had no record of his travels. On Dec. 14 he went back to Amsterdam, where he bought the shoes used in the alleged bombing attempt.
On Dec. 16, the French say, Reid took a train to Paris and the next day he paid cash for the Paris-to-Miami flight on American Airlines.
He had tried to take the same flight a day earlier — Friday, Dec. 21 — but was stopped at the airport because he raised a red flag in the profiling system: He had a one-way ticket, paid for in cash, no checked luggage, and carried a small carry-on bag.
He raised further suspicions when the airline ran a passport check. It was issued Dec. 7 at the British Embassy in Brussels, and appeared to be counterfeit. French police questioned him extensively and eventually approved him to travel, but he missed the flight.