On December 22, 2001, al-Qaeda sympathizer Richard Reid attempted the mid-flight destruction of an American Airlines aircraft bound from Paris to Miami flight with 197 people on board. Reid attempted to destroy the flight with plastic explosives concealed in his shoes that were capable of blowing a hole in the plane's pressurized fuselage. Passengers and crew subdued Reid after the smell of burned matches alerted them to Reid's failed attempts to light his shoes.
Authorities at the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris had failed to check Reid's shoes—not a common pre-flight security practice at the time. Subsequent to Reid's attempt, the checking of shoes and more extensive checks for explosive residues became part of pre-flight security examinations.
Charles de Gaulle (CDG) airport had an established reputation as a "soft" entry point for terrorists. In an unrelated case occurring the year after Reid's arrest, an Algerian-born CDG baggage handler who had worked at the airport for more than three years—and who had broad access to secure areas—was arrested after weapons and explosive devices (an automatic handgun, a machine gun, five bars of plastic explosives, and two detonators) were discovered in the trunk of his car.
Prosecutors subsequently asserted that "Reid's intentions were clear he wanted to murder innocent people in the name of his fanatical religious beliefs." Reid subsequently confessed and admitted guilt to eight felony charges, including attempted murder, attempted murder using a weapon of mass destruction, planting an explosive device on an aircraft, attempted destruction of an aircraft, and two counts of interfering with a flight crew.
Reid, son of an English mother and Jamaican father, was a British citizen with a history of petty crime. He converted to radical Islam while in a British jail. Reid claimed he was an enemy of the United States, and avowed his allegiance to al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
References to an al-Qaeda operative with a similar operational history and profile to Reid were found on a computer hard drive allegedly used by al-Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan.
Reid attempted to claim he was a "solider" in the war on terrorism. At Reid's sentencing, U.S. federal judge William Young dismissed his assertions and, citing Reid's attempts to kill innocent civilians, flatly told Reid, "You are not a soldier, you are a terrorist." Reid was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
█ FURTHER READING:
Ferdinand, P. "Would-Be Shoe Bomber Gets Life Term." Washington Post. January 31, 2003; A1.
Terrorist Organization List, United States
Terrorist Organizations, Freezing of Assets
?Terrorist Threat Integration Center