The British man accused of trying to detonate explosives in his sneakers aboard a Paris-to-Miami jetliner had several telephone conversations with Zacarias Moussaoui, the accused co-conspirator in the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington, federal authorities said yesterday.
Telephone calls involving Richard C. Reid, who is being held in Boston in connection with a Dec. 22 attempt to detonate explosives aboard an American Airlines flight, were intercepted late in 2000 by British intelligence agents, although the agents were unable to specifically identify Mr. Reid as a terrorism suspect.
The calls, first reported by the London Observer and confirmed yesterday by U.S. law enforcement authorities, ended in December 2000 when Mr. Moussaoui left London for Pakistan.
U.S. authorities believe Mr. Moussaoui, a French citizen of Moroccan descent, went to Pakistan and then later left to train at a camp in Afghanistan run by Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda terrorist network. Authorities are trying to determine if Mr. Reid also went to the Afghanistan camp, based on interrogations of al Qaeda prisoners who have identified Mr. Reid as having trained in explosives with Mr. Moussaoui in Afghanistan.
Mr. Moussaoui, who was under surveillance in 2000 by British intelligence officials as a potential terrorist, and Mr. Reid also attended the same London mosque in the late 1990s, U.S. authorities said.
Mr. Reid, a 28-year-old British citizen of English and Jamaican descent, was taken into custody after flight attendants on American Airlines Flight 63 discovered him trying to light his sneakers. He was overpowered by the attendants and at least six passengers who responded to help. Later, he was sedated by doctors aboard the jetliner. The aircraft then was diverted to Boston.
Federal authorities have testified that the explosives Mr. Reid is accused of hiding in his sneakers could have blown a hole in the Boeing 767, leading to a rapid decompression of the cabin or igniting the aircraft’s fuel tanks. The blast, they said, could have resulted in the airplane’s crash.
Last week, U.S. Magistrate Judge Judith G. Dein in Boston said there was probable cause for the arrest and ordered that Mr. Reid be held without bail. She said from the bench that he had a lengthy criminal record and had no known home or job, concluding that he was a serious flight risk.
“The evidence is that the defendant was trying to set off an explosive device on a flight with approximately 183 passengers and 14 crew members on board,” Judge Dein wrote. “He acted with callous disregard for the safety of others, and, in fact, appears to have intended to cause them all serious harm, if not death.”
The judge also noted that Mr. Reid has at least 16 prior convictions, mostly for theft, and has lived primarily in Europe at various locations for short periods. He told investigators he was never “officially” employed but was a construction worker and restaurant kitchen aide, Judge Dein said.
Mr. Reid has been charged with interfering with flight crew members by assault and intimidation, a felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Prosecutors have three weeks to present evidence to a grand jury.
It was during the hearing before Judge Dein that FBI Agent Margaret G. Cronin testified that preliminary tests found that Mr. Reid was capable of blowing a “hole in the fuselage,” carrying a “functioning improvised explosive device” in each shoe.
Miss Cronin said preliminary tests on the sneakers showed the presence of triacetone triperoxide (TATP), a highly volatile plastic explosive. She said she did not know whether the explosive devices in the sneakers could have been detonated with a match, as Mr. Reid had attempted to do.