Opposite Editorial II

30th December 2001

The Sunday Times on the Web















Lankans hit by Reid's shoe bomb

The man accused of trying to ignite explosives packed into his shoes, Richard Reid, did cause serious concerns for Sri Lankans travelling abroad.

One Sri Lankan passenger boarding a flight from Tokyo's Narita International Airport was asked by a security guard whether he possessed a box of matches or a cigarette lighter. 

"I have neither. Nor do I have explosives in my shoes.," he exclaimed upon being questioned by the security guard who knew he held a Sri Lankan passport. 

Another Sri Lankan at the Boston International airport in the United States had to spend more than 20 minutes before being cleared. He had to explain not only his family heritage but also the reasons why he was visiting Boston. 

All because someone made the mistake of identifying Richard Reid as a Sri Lankan. It has now been confirmed that, as his passport showed, he is a British national. Even his mother has been located in the UK. 

If that was to come as some form of relief to Sri Lankans who travel abroad, the Sri Lanka Embassy in Washington has added to the confusion. The prestigious Washington Post had a quote from the Sri Lanka Embassy spokesperson over the Reid episode. The relevant quotes:

"The Sri Lanka Government strenuously denied that the 6- foot-4 inch, 220 pound Reid is a citizen of their island nation. 

"From appearances, we can say he is not a Sri Lankan," said Rajika Jayatilleke, a spokesperson for that country's embassy in Washington. "Sri Lankans aren't that tall or heavy. He has a hawkish nose, and those are not Sri Lankan features.

But she noted "he could well have been born in Sri Lanka, and that 7 per cent of her country's population is made up of Muslims, many of whom originally came from elsewhere.

"A lot of Sri Lankans are calling and they are angry."

But contrary to the suspicions entertained by Sri Lanka Embassy's spokesperson in Washington, Richard Reid, was not born in Sri Lanka and has had no connection whatsoever. Two American television networks, CNN and MSNBC were among several US media that have given detailed accounts of Reid's activities. Here is what these two leading networks had to say. CNN: The plastic explosive that a passenger allegedly tried to detonate aboard a trans-Atlantic American Airlines flight last week was "very, very sophisticated," a US official told CNN on Wednesday.

"Officials say Richard Reid hid ten ounces of PETN-based material, a version of the plastic explosive C4 that is very sensitive to heat and friction, in each of his shoes when he boarded Flight 63 in Paris on December 22.

"It would have taken a high level of intelligence and know-how to construct this type of bomb," a US official said. The complicated nature of the explosive has led authorities to believe Reid is likely to have had an accomplice, government sources said. 

"Investigators, the official noted, have also found a safety fuse - black powder packed inside a cord that is attached to and designed to detonate the explosive. 

"Passengers and crew subdued Reid, 28, after an attendant on the flight, bound from Paris, France, to Miami, Florida, noticed him trying to use a match to set fire to his shoes. The British national is under suicide watch in a Plymouth jail, about 30 miles south of Boston, charged with interfering with a flight crew.

"Some al Qaeda detainees in Afghanistan claimed to recognise Reid in a photograph shown them by US interrogators, officials said. US authorities cautioned they had no independent confirmation tying Reid with either al Qaeda or the Taliban. 

"However, one senior official said these reports "open the door" to the possibility of a connection. Meanwhile, in Britain, a mosque official said that both Reid and Zacarias Moussaoui attended Brixton Mosque in south London. 

"Towards the end of (Reid's) stay with us, we noticed he started wearing the Army green jacket, and started questioning our understanding of Islam based on what he had learned elsewhere," Baker said. 

Those questions, Baker said, pertained to suicide bombings and other terrorist activities - activities Baker said "alarmed and disgusted" members of his mosque. But they were views dovetailed with those of Moussaoui. "He came before... Mr. Reid, and he came from France," Baker said of Moussaoui.

"His views changed quite frankly and he was very vocal and somewhat arrogant. I cannot say they met, because Reid came at the tail end when Zacarias was asked to leave, so I cannot say for certain. But it is highly probable that they met."

"Reid, he said, has not been seen at the mosque for at least two years, and he had no idea what Reid may have done after leaving. But, Baker said, he doubted Reid would or could have acted alone. 

"He doesn't have the capacity to think.: I'm going to get these explosives, I know where to get these explosives from, I'll put them in my shoe," Baker told the Times of London. He suggested that Reid may have been testing a new method of terror delivery.

"Reid boarded the December 22 flight a day after authorities detained him for suspicious behaviour. He was cleared, but missed his original flight and spent the night at a Paris hotel courtesy of American Airlines, sources told CNN.

"George Ferguson of the British Consulate in Boston said officials believe Reid was British-are concerned" is legitimate.

He said he does not have any further information about the suspect's background or his parents. 

The MSNBC report said: "US intelligence sources said that some prisoners recognised Reid, also known as Abdel Rahim, who went to some al-Qaeda training camps. Some of them, sources say, remember Reid as being "high strung."

"Reid is accused of trying to ignite plastic explosives packed into his shoes. He was on a flight from Paris to Miami when a flight attendant smelled a match being lit and saw him trying to ignite a fuse sticking out of the top of his shoe. Passengers tackled him and tied him up, saving the flight from destruction.

"If true, this would be the first evidence directly connecting Reid to bin Laden, who is suspected of masterminding the September 11 terror attacks on New York and Washington. 

"The Boston Globe said that experts found the bomb to be 'alarmingly sophisticated.' That level of sophistication raises questions about whether Reid had help.

"The sort of bomb material in his shoes normally requires a blasting cap or detonator to explode. But the material in Reid's shoes, according to the Globe, was blended with another kind of explosive to make it explode after being lit. 

"The belief is now that if he had a lighter and not a match, the thing would have detonated," said the law enforcement official who spoke to The Globe. "They're trying to find out as much as they can, as fast as they can about the guy." 

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