- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 27, 2001

Saturday's near-catastrophe over the Atlantic Ocean, in which passengers and flight attendants thwarted a terrorist who tried to ignite a bomb concealed in his shoe, illustrated remarkable heroism, as well as the extraordinary weaknesses which remain in the post-September 11 security systems regime at major international airports.

Shortly after the suspect, a British citizen named Richard Reid, attempted to light the fuse for his bomb, a female flight attendant aboard American Airlines Flight 63, flying from Paris to Miami, told him to put out his match. Mr. Reid made it abundantly clear he had no intention of complying. "He bit me!," the flight attendant screamed a second later. Then she hurled herself on top of Mr. Reid, who stands 6-foot-4 and weighs more than 200 lbs., screaming desperately to other passengers, "Help me. I need some big guys over here to help me." Within a few seconds, four or five large male passengers, one of whom was 6-foot-eight inch, 250-lb. professional basketball player Kwame James, rushed to Mr. Reid's seat in aisle 29. In the next few minutes, these passengers who by then realized that they were fighting for their lives wrestled the match away from Mr. Reid and placed plastic handcuffs on him. Even as the other passengers piled atop him, Mr. Reid fought furiously. "He put up a life-and-death struggle," one witness said. The rescuers solicited 20 belts from other passengers, which they used to tie Mr. Reid up. Several doctors injected the suspect with sedatives from the plane's medical kit. The flight was diverted to Boston and escorted by military fighter-jets. A SWAT team stormed onto the plane at Logan Airport, where Mr. Reid was taken into custody.

While the heroism and courage of the flight crew and passengers is to be celebrated, a few cautionary notes are in order. Would such extraordinary teamwork, which worked well against a lone terrorist, have been effective in subduing the relatively well-trained four- and five-member hijacking teams that killed close to 3,000 people on U.S. soil September 11?

Even more troubling is the fact that Mr. Reid was able to get on the plane to begin with. One day earlier, Mr. Reid had been turned away at the same Paris airport because he appeared "suspicious." He was no less suspicious when he returned 24-hours later. He was carrying a new passport, a one-way ticket and only a small bag aboard a trans-Atlantic flight. Yet French airport officials, apparently finding that "his papers were in order," waved Mr. Reid through. While Mr. Reid didn't seem to get much attention from the security screeners on Saturday, his fellow passengers noticed him even before the flight took off. "I remember thinking, if he's a terrorist, he's a moron, because he stood out when I saw him," one told the New York Post. The fact that Mr. Reid was allowed to board despite all of the red flags is inexcusable and strongly suggests that France needs to do a much better job on airline security.

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