Shoe Bomb Suspect Had Enough Explosives to Bring Down Plane

Dec. 24, 2001 -- The suspected suicide bomber seized Saturday on a trans-Atlantic flight had 10 ounces of an explosive material in his shoes that could have brought down the plane, sources told ABCNEWS.

FBI officials today said the suspect, identified by his British passport as Richard Reid, had a functional bomb tucked in his black high-top sneakers aboard American Airlines Flight 63 from Paris to Miami. The plane was rerouted to Boston's Logan International Airport.

"It is a functional device, it could have exploded as configured," Charles Prouty, special agent in charge of the FBI's Boston office, said at a press conference today. "It would have resulted in significant damage and we did avert a major disaster."

Officials at Logan Airport described the substance as consistent with the military plastic explosive C-4, a clay-like substance that is easy to mold and shape. C-4 is believed to have been used in the attack on the USS Cole that killed 17 American sailors.

"Even a small explosion on a plane at altitude in a pressurized cabin can be extraordinarily dangerous," said aviation security expert Brian Jenkins.

First Court Appearance

Appearing dazed — his explosive shoes replaced by prison slippers and an orange jump suit — Reid, was made his first court appearance today before a federal judge in Boston. During the 10-minute hearing, the handcuffed Reid sat at the defense table by himself. He was not represented by a lawyer but has requested one.

When U.S. Magistrate Judith Dein asked him if he understood the charges against him, Reid nodded yes. Asked if he promised to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth under oath, Reid just shrugged.

"Is that a 'Yes,'" Dein asked.

"Yes," Reid said.

Prosecutors have accused Reid of interfering with a flight crew through assault and intimidation, a charge that carries a term of up to 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine.

Reid is being held without bail at the Plymouth County Correctional Center until his bail hearing scheduled for Friday. He did not enter a plea today because it was not a formal arraignment. Reid is under suicide watch and is scheduled to undergo psychiatric evaluation before Friday's court appearance.

Who Is He?

The FBI is conducting an international probe to reconstruct Reid's life. French intelligence said Reid is a Muslim convert from Sri Lanka who also uses the name Tariq Raja, but the Sri Lanka Embassy in Washington, D.C., denied today that he is citizen. The FBI says it believes the man is a British citizen, that Reid is his real name, and that he sometimes uses Raja as an alias.

Scotland Yard also believes the suspect to be a British national.

A senior FBI official told ABCNEWS that investigators have not been able to link Reid to any accomplices, and so far believe the incident to be an isolated one. However, investigators have yet not ruled out a wider conspiracy.

Authorities are also alarmed because Reid tried to take the same flight a day earlier — Friday — but was stopped at the airport, aviation sources and Paris investigators said. He raised a red flag in the profiling system because he had a one-way ticket, paid for in cash, no checked luggage, and carried a small carry-on bag.

He was questioned at the check-in counter, and then raised further suspicions when the airline ran a passport check. It was issued Dec. 7 at the British Embassy in Brussels, and may have appeared counterfeit. He was subsequently handed to French police, who questioned him extensively and eventually approved him to travel, but by then he had missed the flight.

Reid spent the night in an airport hotel, and then tried to board a flight the next day. He again raised red flags, and was scrutinized, but with assurances from French police from the day before, he was allowed to board.

Increased Security

Airports across Europe and the United States tightened security measures in the wake of Reid's arrest, some requiring passengers to send their shoes through X-ray machines.

On Sunday night, the Transportation Department issued a new directive, warning airlines and airports to be on the lookout for weapons in shoes.

French airport security authorities have also summoned a special Christmas Eve meeting to talk about what went wrong. There is particular attention being paid to intensify screening for explosives.

"We are increasing the number of dogs," said Patrick Rouby, the head of security at Charles de Gaulle airport. "And we've requested help from the army."

Subdued by Passengers, Crew

The trouble on Saturday started about 90 minutes into the flight when a flight attendant smelled what seemed like a burning match, according to the Justice Department statement. The flight attendant confronted Reid, who put a match into his mouth. The flight attendant then notified the captain and returned to Reid.

"He lit another match, and it appeared to the flight attendant that he was attempting to set fire to the inner tongue of his sneaker," according to a Justice Department statement. "She then noticed a wire protruding from that sneaker. She grabbed at the sneaker and Reid shoved her into the bulkhead. The flight attendant made a second attempt to grab the shoe, and Reid "pushed her to the floor. The flight attendant then yelled for help and ran to get water. At that point, a second flight attendant joined the struggle and was bitten on the thumb by Reid."

"Within, I would say, five or 10, 15 seconds, the guy had five or six people on him to stop him," said passenger Jacques Valleau, who was sitting nearby. "Three men took off their own belts to tie up the guy and the guy was totally blocked. And another man was holding his head by his hair because he had a big ponytail, and the guy couldn't move."

"I heard the flight attendant screaming for help, and I looked up and she was struggling with a man, trying to take matches out of his hand," said passenger Leandro Bolanos.

Professional basketball player Kwame James, who at 6 feet, 8 inches and 250 pounds might be considered imposing in his own right, said Reid was so strong he was "almost possessed."

"He was unbelievably strong," said James, who plays on the French national team. "He fought off three or four of us. A doctor came by and gave him an injection, and then we tied him up with everything we could get our hands on."

James said Reid spoke "perfect" English. Two U.S. Air Force fighter jets escorted the plane to Boston's Logan Airport after the flight crew and fellow passengers restrained Reid.

ABCNEWS' Pierre Thomas and Barbara Pinto in Washington and Lisa Stark and David Wright contributed to this report.