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Man Who Tried to Light Explosives in Shoes is Ordered Held

by Steve Leblanc
The Associated Press

BOSTON — A man who allegedly tried to set off explosives hidden in his shoes on a trans-Atlantic flight was ordered held in federal custody Monday, and authorities said they had no evidence to link him to Osama bin Laden's terror network.

The suspect, listed in court papers as Richard C. Reid, appeared in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Judith Dein, sitting alone and dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit and sandals. He showed little emotion, and when she asked if he understood the charge — intimidation or assault of a flight crew — he answered quietly, "Yeah."

Reid, 28, requested a court-appointed attorney and was ordered held pending a bail hearing Friday. If convicted, he could be sentenced to 20 years in prison. The FBI said more charges are likely.

The explosive devices detected in preliminary tests on Reid's sneakers were functional and could have caused serious damage if detonated, said Charles Prouty, the Special Agent in Charge of the Boston FBI office.

"It would have resulted in significant damage and we did avert a major disaster," he said. He declined to detail what the explosives were.

Airports around the country and in Europe ratcheted up security yet another notch after Reid was subdued by passengers and taken into custody Saturday. Some airports are requiring passengers to send their shoes through X-ray machines.

The Federal Aviation Administration on Sunday ordered U.S. airlines and airports to be more vigilant in screening passengers' shoes. The order follows a similar one issued Dec. 11 warning that hijackers might try to smuggle weapons in their footwear, and it poses a challenge for U.S. airports.

In the United States, the current generation of walk-through machines that screen passengers for weapons can't detect plastic explosives, and most airline passengers and their carry-on bags aren't checked for explosives by other means, such as bomb-sniffing dogs.

On Saturday's American Airlines flight, two flight attendants and at least a half-dozen passengers grabbed the suspect and used belts to strap him into his seat while two doctors used drugs from the airplane's medical kit to sedate him. The Boeing 767 jetliner was carrying 183 passengers and 14 crew members.

Prouty said the FBI is investigating whether Reid had links to al-Qaida, and hasn't ruled anything out. A government official in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity, said investigators had no clues linking Reid to the terror network.

Reid was being held under constant watch in a jail in Plymouth, the sheriff's department said.

The suspect's true identity remains unclear. The name Reid appears on his British passport, and officials at Scotland Yard said they believed he was a British national. French authorities initially identified the suspect as a Sri Lankan named Tariq Raja, citing information from U.S. investigators. But a French official said Monday that investigators in France consider him to be a British national, and U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan said the passport appeared legitimate.

French police are probing how someone with a one-way ticket and only one small bag eluded increased security measures at Charles de Gaulle airport outside Paris, where Flight 63 originated.

French authorities said Reid had tried to board the same Miami-bound flight a day earlier but was turned away after raising suspicions. They said the suspect — who also has gone by a third name, Abdel Rahim — was given permission to board after intensive questioning, but by then had missed Friday's flight.

Passengers said they had noticed the 6-foot-4, ponytailed man standing alone and stone-faced before boarding.

"He had a blank look," said Nicholas Green, 27. "The people who had seen him remembered him."

During the flight, Reid, who was sitting behind the wing in the coach section, lit a match, but put it in his mouth when confronted by flight attendant Hermis Moutardier, the FBI said in an affidavit.

Moutardier told the captain and returned to see Reid with a match held to the tongue of his sneaker, then noticed a wire protruding from the shoe. She tried to grab the sneaker, but Reid allegedly pushed her to the floor, and she screamed for help.

Another flight attendant, Cristina Jones, intervened and Reid bit her, authorities said.

"He bit Ms. Jones on the thumb and Ms. Moutardier threw water in his face," FBI agent Margaret G. Cronin said.

That's when passengers reached Reid and subdued him.

Marcos Obermaier, 42, of Miami, a passenger who guarded Reid with a fire extinguisher, told ABC's "Good Morning America" that a group jumped Reid immediately. "He definitely had a crazed look in his eyes."

The plane was escorted to Logan Airport by two F-15 fighter jets.

Kwame James, a Trinidadian who plays professional basketball in France, helped subdue the man. He said that when other passengers asked Reid why he did it, "He just kind of smiled and didn't say too much."

When one passenger asked about his motivation, Reid responded, "Don't worry. You'll see," James said.

While U.S. airlines have a congressionally mandated deadline of Jan. 18 for having a system in place to inspect all checked baggage for explosives, walk-through devices that could detect them on passengers are still in the development stage.

"It's a hole that needs to be looked at," said Capt. John Cox, executive air safety chairman of the Air Line Pilots Association.

Associated Press reporters John Solomon in Washington and Pamela Sampson in Paris contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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