Richard Reid, accused of having a bomb in his shoes on a trans-Atlantic flight, had support from associates of Osama bin Laden, sources told ABCNEWS.
Officials believe whoever helped Reid may have left evidence behind, including a strand of hair and a palm print in one of his shoes. Reid, a British national, is being held in a Massachusetts jail awaiting trial on federal criminal charges.
According to investigators, Reid's shoes were transformed into a deadly bomb, powerful enough to bring down a commercial airliner. Reid was flying from Paris to Miami on American Airlines on Dec. 22 when he allegedly tried to set off explosives in his shoes with a match. The plane was diverted to Boston, where Reid was arrested.
The sophisticated design required no wires or metal, making the explosives virtually impossible to detect by airport security, sources said. ABCNEWS obtained the first photographs of the shoes.
"[The explosives were] extremely sophisticated and there's no question that this was not something he did by himself," said Matthew A. Levitt, a former FBI analyst and counter terrorism expert. "Reid was a mule."
Reid Had Terrorist Help
ABCNEWS has learned intelligence officials suspect Reid had support from bin Laden associates operating throughout Europe.
"Reid indeed depended upon a pretty extensive European network that so far remains pretty mysterious," said Alexis Debat, formerly of the French Defense Ministry.
Investigators believe Reid was aided by terrorists in France and Belgium with ties to Djamel Beghal, who is being held in France and is suspected of planning an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Paris.
European investigators suspect Reid traveled to a terrorist safe house in Belgium to pick up the explosives and then made his way to France to meet with a man code-named "The Engineer," an explosives expert who helped design the shoe bomb.
"The funding, the material, the know-how all indicate that there was someone or some group behind this," said Levitt. "And it appears to be al Qaeda."