Terrorism: January 10, 2002


Richard Reid: Agent For Al Qaeda- The case of "shoe bomber" Richard Reid is an interesting one. He had been stopped before boarding the Paris-to-Miami flight on 21 December (the anniversary of the Lockerbie bombing) because he was traveling alone, paid for his ticket in cash, had no luggage, and was carrying a copy of the Koran. Questioned for two hours, he missed his flight and the airline bought him dinner and a hotel room. When he showed up for the flight the next day, he was waved through without further questioning by guards who recognized him. He was never searched or checked by an explosive-sniffing dog. He tried to detonate his shoes in his seat, so that he could press them against the outer fuselage and penetrate it with the blast. Only because it was a rainy day in Paris and the fuzes to his shoe bombs were too damp to light with matches was his attempt at martyrdom foiled. If he had used a cigarette lighter, which burns with a hotter flame, he would have succeeded. A stewardess smelled the match and assumed he was trying to smoke until she saw what he was doing and called for help. Passengers then subdued him in a wild fistfight.

But his story is much deeper than that. A petty criminal, he had been converted to Islam (as his father had been) while in British jails. The British allowed Islamic Imams to enter the prisons seeking converts and provided private places where individuals could pray with their religious teachers, just as Christian prisoners were allow the privacy of the confessional. Once he became a Moslem and finished his jail sentence in 1996, he went to the Mosque in Brixton, which gave him a job and further religious training.

British police have identified at least 37 British citizens who apparently were recruited by al Qaeda. Some were Moslem immigrants and others were converts. All were from the angry and disaffected classes; many were petty criminals. The British have suspended the visiting privileges of many of these Imams, a few before 11 September and several since then.

While the Brixton mosque is known as moderate and has ejected many radicals from its doors, it was still a place where radicals sought converts to their particular brand of Islam. Reid had been seen with Zacarias Moussaoui, the "twentieth hijacker". Reid disappeared from the Brixton mosque in 1998 and admitted going to Pakistan to attend religious schools. Captured al Qaeda members reported seeing him in Afghanistan in 1998 and 1999, and said he had been trained in the camp that specialized in solo martyrs (rather than teams of martyrs or undercover non-martyrs, which trained elsewhere). He is thought to have been schooled at the camp in how to pass through security without raising suspicious and to fashion bombs out of various types of explosives. He is known to have visited Afghanistan with Zacarias Moussaoui in late 2000 or early 2001. Returning to the Brixton Mosque last summer, he was expelled for his radical and hate-filled statements. He is known to have flown to Israel in July 2001 (exiting by bus through Egypt) and to Turkey in August. Reid had, after leaving Afghanistan, traveled widely but had no known source of income. It is thought that al Qaeda paid for his tickets, sending him on various errands and possible missions. Like other al Qaeda agents (including Mohammad Atta), he suddenly obtained a new British passport after claiming to have lost his earlier one (which was filled with interesting entry and exit stamps and showed a record of extensive travel). --Stephen V Cole


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