Richard Colvin Reid
12 August 1973
|Other names||Abdel Rahim, Abdul Rof, the Shoe Bomber|
|Criminal status||Incarcerated at ADX Florence, Colorado, United States|
|Conviction(s)||Plea of guilty|
|Penalty||Three consecutive life sentences and 110 years without parole|
Richard Colvin Reid (born 12 August 1973), also known as the "Shoe Bomber", is a British terrorist who attempted to detonate a shoe bomb while on American Airlines Flight 63 from Paris to Miami in 2001. Born to a father who was a career criminal, Reid converted to Islam as a young man in prison after years as a petty criminal. Later he became radicalized and went to Pakistan and Afghanistan, where he trained and became a member of al-Qaeda.
On 22 December 2001, he boarded American Airlines Flight 63 between Paris and Miami, wearing shoes packed with explosives, which he unsuccessfully tried to detonate. Passengers subdued him on the plane, which landed at Logan International Airport in Boston, Massachusetts, the closest US airport. He was arrested, charged, and indicted. In 2002, Reid pleaded guilty in U.S. federal court to eight federal criminal counts of terrorism, based on his attempt to destroy a commercial aircraft in flight. He was sentenced to three life terms plus 110 years in prison without parole and was transferred to ADX Florence, a super maximum security prison in Colorado, United States.
Reid was born in Bromley, London, to Lesley Hughes, who was of native English descent, and Colvin Robin Reid, a man of mixed race whose father was a Jamaican immigrant. When Reid was born, his father, a career criminal, was in prison for stealing a car. Reid attended Thomas Tallis School in Kidbrooke, leaving at age 16 and becoming a graffiti writer who was in and out detention. He began writing graffiti under the name "Enrol" as part of a gang, and ultimately accumulated more than 10 convictions for crimes against persons and property. He served sentences at Feltham Young Offenders Institution and at Maidstone Prison.
Upon his release from prison in 1995, he joined the Brixton Mosque. He later began attending the Finsbury Park Mosque in North London, headed at that time by the anti-American cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri, who was described as "the heart of the extremist Islamic culture" in Britain. By 1998 Reid was voicing extremist views. At the Finsbury Park Mosque he fell under the sway of "terrorist talent spotters and handlers" allied with al-Qaeda, including Djamal Beghal, one of the leaders of the foiled plan for a 2001 suicide bombing of the American Embassy in Paris.
He spent 1999 and 2000 in Pakistan and trained at a terrorist camp in Afghanistan, according to several informants. He may also have attended an anti-American religious training centre in Lahore as a follower of Mubarak Ali Gilani.
After his return to Britain, Reid worked to obtain duplicate passports from British government consulates abroad. He lived and travelled in several places in Europe, communicating using an address in Peshawar, Pakistan. In July 2001, Reid flew to Israel.
Preparation for bombing
Reid and Saajid Badat, another British man preparing as a terrorist, returned to Pakistan in November 2001, and reportedly travelled overland to Afghanistan. They were given "shoe bombs", casual footwear adapted to be covertly smuggled onto aircraft before being used to destroy them. Later forensic analysis of both bombs showed that they contained the same plastic explosive and that the respective lengths of detonator cord had come from the same batch: the cut mark on Badat's cord exactly matched that on Reid's. The pair returned separately to the United Kingdom in early December 2001. Reid went to Belgium for 10 days before catching a train to Paris on 16 December.
On 21 December 2001, Reid attempted to board a flight from Paris to Miami, Florida. His boarding was delayed because his dishevelled physical appearance aroused the suspicions of the airline passenger screeners. In addition, Reid did not answer all of their questions, and had not checked any luggage for the transatlantic flight. Additional screening by the French National Police resulted in Reid's being re-issued a ticket for a flight on the following day. He returned to the Paris airport on 22 December 2001, and boarded American Airlines Flight 63 from Paris to Miami, wearing his special shoes packed with plastic explosives in their hollowed-out bottoms.
Bombing attempt on American Airlines Flight 63
On 22 December 2001, a passenger on Flight 63 from Paris to Miami complained of a smoke smell in the cabin shortly after a meal service. One flight attendant, Hermis Moutardier, thinking she smelled a burnt match, walked along the aisles of the plane, trying to assess the source. A passenger pointed to Reid, who was sitting alone near a window and attempting to light a match. Moutardier warned him that smoking was not allowed on the airplane. Reid promised to stop.
A few minutes later, Moutardier found Reid leaned over in his seat. After she asked him what he was doing, Reid grabbed at her, revealing one shoe in his lap, a fuse leading into the shoe, and a lit match. Several passengers worked together to subdue the 6 foot 4 inch (193 cm) tall Reid weighting more than 200 pounds (>90 kg). They restrained him using plastic handcuffs, seatbelt extensions, leather waist belts and headphone cords. A doctor on board administered a tranquilizer to him which he found in the emergency medical kit of the airliner. The flight was immediately diverted to Logan International Airport in Boston, Massachusetts, the closest US airport.
The explosive apparently did not detonate due to the delay in the take-off of Reid's flight. The rainy weather, perhaps along with Reid's foot perspiration, caused the fuse to be too damp to ignite.
Legal proceedings and sentencing
Reid was immediately arrested at Logan International Airport after the incident. Two days later, he was charged before a federal court in Boston with "interfering with the performance of duties of flight crew members by assault or intimidation", a crime which carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Additional charges were added when he was formally indicted by a grand jury. The judge ordered Reid held in jail without bail, pending trial due to the gravity of the crimes and the perceived high risk that he would try to flee. Officials at the time indicated that Reid's shoes contained 10 ounces (283 g) of explosive material characteristic of C-4, enough to blow a hole in the fuselage and cause the plane to crash.
During a preliminary hearing on 28 December, an FBI agent testified that forensic analysis had identified the chemicals as PETN, the primary explosive, and TATP (triacetone triperoxide), a chemical needed to detonate the bomb with a fuse and match. The prosecutor obtained a grand jury indictment and on 16 January 2002, Reid was charged with nine criminal counts related to terrorism, namely:
- Attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction,
- Attempted homicide,
- Placing or transporting an explosive or incendiary device on an aircraft or public mass transportation vehicle,
- Attempted murder,
- 2 counts of interference with flight crew members and attendants on an aircraft
- Attempted destruction of an aircraft or public mass transportation vehicle
- Using a destructive device during and in relation to a crime of violence, and
- Attempted destruction of an aircraft
- Attempted wrecking of a mass transportation vehicle.
The ninth charge, attempted wrecking of a mass transportation vehicle, was dismissed on 11 June 2002, because the Congressional definition of 'vehicle' did not include aircraft.
Reid pleaded guilty to the remaining eight counts on 4 October 2002. On 31 January 2003, he was sentenced by Judge William Young to the maximum of three consecutive life sentences and 110 years with no possibility of parole. Reid was also fined the maximum of $250,000 on each count, a total of $2 million.
During the sentencing hearing, Reid said he was an enemy of the United States and in league with al-Qaeda. When Reid said he was a soldier of God under the command of Osama bin Laden, Judge Young responded:
You are not an enemy combatant, you are a terrorist ... You are not a soldier in any army, you are a terrorist. To call you a soldier gives you far too much stature. (points to U.S. flag) You see that flag, Mr Reid? That is the flag of the United States of America. That flag will be here long after you are forgotten.
Reid reportedly demonstrated a lack of remorse and a combative nature during the hearing, and said that "the flag will come down on the day of judgment". He is serving his sentence at the United States Penitentiary, Florence ADX in Colorado, a supermax facility which holds the most dangerous prisoners in the federal system.
Although Reid had insisted that he had acted alone and had built the bombs himself, forensic evidence included material from another person. In 2005, a British man, Saajid Badat from Gloucester, admitted that he had conspired with Richard Reid and a Tunisian man (Nizar Trabelsi, who is in prison in Belgium), in a plot to blow up two airliners bound for the United States, using their shoe bombs. Badat has said that he had been instructed to board a flight from Amsterdam to the United States. Badat never boarded and withdrew from his part of the conspiracy. Badat did not warn criminal or aviation authorities about Reid.
Badat confessed immediately after being arrested by the British police. The detonator cord in Badat's bomb was found by experts to be an exact match for the cord on Reid's bomb, and their explosive chemicals were essentially identical. He had received the bomb-making materials from an Arab in Afghanistan. Badat was sentenced to 13 years in prison by a British judge and has since been released.
Changes in airline security procedures
As a result of these events, airlines encouraged passengers departing from an airport in the United States to pass through airport security in socks or bare feet while their shoes are scanned for bombs. Scanners do not find PETN in shoes or strapped to a person. A chemical test is needed. However, even if the X-ray scanners cannot detect all explosives, it is an effective way to see if the shoe has been altered to hold a bomb. In 2006, the TSA started requiring all passengers to remove their shoes for screening.
In 2011, the rules were relaxed to allow children 12 and younger and adults 75 and older to keep their shoes on during security screenings.
Alleged role in 11 September attacks
Captured al-Qaeda terrorist conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui, stated at his sentencing hearing in 2006 that Reid was a co-conspirator in the 11 September 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, and that Moussaoui and Reid had intended to hijack a fifth aircraft and crash it into the White House in Washington, D.C., as part of the attacks that took place that day. Department of Justice investigators and the federal prosecutors were skeptical of Moussaoui's claim that Reid was involved in the plot.
Reid filed a lawsuit against the restrictions placed on him in prison which controlled his communications with lawyers and other non-prisoners, limited his access to Muslim clerics, and prevented him from joining in group prayer at the prison. In 2009, Reid went on a hunger strike and was force-fed and hydrated for several weeks. It was unknown whether Reid's hunger strike was related to his lawsuit. The Department of Justice, after consulting with its counterterrorism section, the prosecuting US attorney's office, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, allowed Reid's prison restrictions to expire in 2009, rather than renewing them, making his lawsuit moot.
- 7 July 2005 London bombings
- Islamic terrorism
- List of unsuccessful terrorist plots in the United States post-9/11
- Ramzi Yousef
- Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab
- United Airlines Flight 663 incident
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