- The Washington Times - Friday, December 28, 2001

BOSTON The lawyer who will defend a British man suspected of trying to blow up a trans-Atlantic flight using explosives crammed into his shoes has urged the public to keep an open mind in advance of a preliminary court hearing here today.
Richard Reid, 28, tried to set fire to his explosives-laden sneakers on an American Airlines Paris-Miami flight, which was diverted to Boston Saturday, according to investigators. They say the bombs were powerful enough to have created a major disaster.
Mr. Reid was immediately detained by the FBI and has been held without bail since Monday, when he was formally charged with intimidation and interfering with a flight crew, offenses that carry 20-year prison terms.
Since his arrest, speculation linking the suspect and recent convert to Islam to extremist groups has swirled amid indications that Mr. Reid was working with others, given the sophistication of the explosive device fitted inside his shoes.
But Mr. Reid's court-appointed attorney, Tamar Birckhead, said she was unaware of any evidence supporting a link to terrorism and vowed to vigorously defend the suspect.
"We are unaware of any evidence to support a link between the offense charged and any terrorist organization or individual," said Miss Birckhead. "We urge the press and public to maintain open minds as the criminal justice system proceeds."
Investigators have been tight-lipped about the case, but media reports say officials are probing links between Mr. Reid and the militant al Qaeda group, blamed for September 11 suicide attacks with hijacked airliners that killed more than 3,000 in the United States.
U.S. Magistrate Judith Dein scheduled an initial hearing for 11 a.m. today for prosecutors to present their case against him. So far that includes no evidence pointing to a terrorism conspiracy, said Miss Birckhead.
The FBI declined to say yesterday whether new evidence or charges had been filed in the case.
However, Miss Birckhead said in her statement: "We anticipate receiving additional information as the case progresses beyond this preliminary stage."
Passengers and crew overpowered Mr. Reid in his apparent attempt to ignite his shoes with a match on the Boeing 767 carrying 197 persons from Paris to Miami.
Preliminary examinations show his black suede sneakers were equipped with sophisticated explosive devices that could have detonated had he lit them with a lighter instead of a sulfur match, a Massachusetts state official told a local newspaper.
Authorities have issued no official statement suggesting a link between Mr. Reid and Osama bin Laden, the reputed terrorist mastermind of the September 11 attacks and the head of al Qaeda.
However, a report on Wednesday by ABC said European law enforcement authorities had evidence that Mr. Reid trained in Afghanistan with Zacarias Moussaoui, a French national who has been indicted for conspiracy in connection with the September 11 attacks.
According to other media reports, al Qaeda prisoners held by U.S. troops in Afghanistan identified Mr. Reid in photos as having trained in the group's camps there.

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