- The Washington Times - Monday, December 24, 2001

A passenger who tried to set fire to shoes with explosives hidden inside had purchased a one-way ticket on a Paris-to-Miami flight, had checked no luggage and had been stopped from boarding an earlier flight because of security concerns, authorities said yesterday.
The passenger has been identified by French authorities as Tariq Raja, 28, of Sri Lanka, who changed his name to Abdel Rahim when he converted to Islam. He was carrying a British passport issued in Belgium in the name of Richard Colvin Reid, also 28, which he used to board American Airlines Flight 63.
U.S. intelligence officials said several suspected members of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist group recently passed through Brussels, which harbors a sophisticated underground network in false passports and identity papers.
The American Airlines flight, with 185 passengers and 12 crew members, was diverted Saturday to Logan International Airport in Boston after Mr. Raja reportedly threatened to detonate explosives in his high-top sneakers. The plane was escorted to Logan by two Air Force F-15 fighter jets dispatched from Otis Air Force Base on Cape Cod after the pilot notified air traffic controllers of a problem.
U.S. Attorney Michael J. Sullivan in Boston yesterday said the man has been charged in a criminal complaint with interfering with the performance of the duties of crew members by assault or intimidation. The formal charge identifies the passenger as "Richard C. Reid," based on information on his passport.
According to an FBI affidavit, the FBI was notified of a disturbance involving an assault by a passenger on a flight attendant. The affidavit said the disturbance began 90 minutes into the flight after an attendant smelled what she thought was a burnt match and confronted the passenger.
The affidavit said the man then put the match in his mouth, and the flight attendant notified the captain. The passenger then lit a second match, the affidavit said, "and it appeared to the flight attendant that he was attempting to set fire to the inner tongue of his sneaker."
It said she noticed a wire protruding from the sneaker and that when she grabbed at it, the passenger shoved her into the bulkhead. At that point, the affidavit said, the flight attendant made a second attempt to grab the shoe and the passenger 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," the affidavit said, adding that several passengers, hearing the commotion and the flight attendants' calls for help, came to their aid and subdued the man.
Preliminary analysis yesterday by the FBI laboratory in Washington determined that there were two functional improvised explosive devices recovered from the shoes, although FBI officials did not elaborate. Additional tests are being conducted.
"If at any point during this investigation we develop further information that warrants the consideration of additional charges, then we'll make those determinations at the appropriate time," Mr. Sullivan said.
FBI agent Charles S. Prouty, who heads the bureau's Boston field office, said the "willingness" of the flight attendants and passengers to get involved "helped avert a potentially dangerous situation."
"This points to the importance of every citizen staying involved and alert to ensure public safety," he said.
French authorities said Mr. Raja attempted to board a flight on the same Paris-to-Miami route a day earlier but was stopped by security officials because he was "behaving bizarrely" and appeared to be "agitated," after telling them he was traveling to Antigua to visit relatives.
They said security officials questioned him because of his actions, because he had no luggage and because he was traveling on a one-way ticket.
He was allowed to proceed because his passport was in order and he was not named on any "watch list" of terrorists, although the security check caused him to miss the Friday flight.
The Sri Lankan returned the next day, and although some passengers thought he was acting strangely, there is no indication that authorities made additional checks.
Mr. Raja is now being held under heavy security at the Plymouth County, Mass., Sheriff's Department. If convicted on the pending charge, he faces 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000. He is scheduled for an initial appearance today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Judith Dein.
The passengers and crew were evacuated safely after the plane landed. The flight attendant who was bitten on her hand was taken to Massachusetts General Hospital, where she was treated and released.
Mr. Raja was described by several passengers as 6 feet 4 inches tall and more than 200 pounds, with a ponytail and "a blank look." Several were questioned by the FBI and Massachusetts police and allowed to complete their trip to Miami yesterday.
Passengers and crew members boarding planes leaving Logan yesterday were required to remove their shoes for security screening.
Authorities said the U.S. government had warned airlines in recent weeks that potential hijackers might try to smuggle weapons aboard commercial jetliners in their shoes, though they declined to say what precipitated the warning.
The incident Saturday began at about 11 a.m. above the Atlantic Ocean, when the scuffle erupted in the coach section. At least six passengers helped subdue the man, after he told an attendant he was "wired." He was then sedated by two doctors who were aboard the flight.
Officials at Logan airport described the explosives as being "C-4 in nature." C-4 is a plastic explosive, developed by the U.S. military, that could have caused considerable damage to the jetliner. X-rays of the man's shoes showed that holes had been drilled into the heels and filled with explosive material.
Federal law enforcement officials yesterday said that although airports around the world have stepped up security since September 11, detecting C-4 in his shoes would have been difficult because X-rays or other scanning devices now in use cannot detect it.
The officials said plastic explosives generally have to be detected by sniffer dogs, and there are fewer than a dozen of the dogs being used at Charles de Gaulle International Airport, where the American Airlines flight originated at 6 a.m. Saturday. French security officials have sought funding for 100 sniffer dogs, but their effort has failed.
Meanwhile, Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said on CBS' "Face the Nation" that federal law enforcement authorities are trying to determine whether Mr. Raja was acting alone or in concert with a known terrorist organization.
"Is it part of a widespread deal or was this guy acting alone, we don't know yet," Mr. Shelby said after a briefing for committee members by the FBI. "It would be my judgment from what I've observed that this man was trying to blow himself up and blow the plane up, and we are very fortunate it didn't happen."

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