Israeli, Dutch authorities track movements of alleged shoe-bomber whose old mosque tried to repel extremists
LONDON (AP) — Officials in Israel and the Netherlands on Thursday tracked the recent movements of Richard C. Reid, the man accused of trying to blow up a plane with explosives hidden in his shoes.
In London, the leader of a mosque where Reid worshipped said he fought for years to keep recruiters for extremist causes away, but that some in his congregation — which included young and unemployed ex-cons — were lured by the fiery rhetoric of holy war.
Among them, Abdul Haqq Baker said, were Reid, accused of trying to detonate explosives in his sneakers on a trans-Atlantic flight, and Zacarias Moussaoui, charged with conspiracy in the Sept. 11 attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.
Baker said Reid drifted away from the politically moderate congregation at the Brixton Mosque in south London in 1998, about two years after he joined.
“When we saw him in the papers, we were like, ‘Oh, gosh, our worst nightmare has come true,” said Baker, who wears a black-and-white knit skullcap. “He definitely wasn’t at that stage” when he left the congregation.
Reid was overpowered by flight attendants and passengers after he allegedly tried to detonate explosives aboard an American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami on Saturday. He has been charged with intimidation or assault of a flight crew and could face 20 years in prison.
Reid’s mother, Lesley Hughes, of Frome, in southwest England, released a statement through a law firm Thursday saying “she has no knowledge of this matter” other than what she has heard and read in the news media.
“As any mother would be, she is deeply shocked and concerned about the allegations made against her son, but has no further comment to make,” according to the statement.
The Dutch secret service said Thursday it was investigating reports that Reid was in the Netherlands in December, allegedly to purchase the shoes used in the explosive device.
“We are looking into the case and whether Mr. Reid was in Amsterdam,” said spokesman Vincent van Steen of the Internal Security Service.
And an Israeli security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that there were indications that Reid visited Israel several months ago.
The Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot reported Thursday that Reid visited that country in June for a week. Reid was questioned by security personnel at the international airport on arrival but later released, according to the newspaper.
The French daily Le Parisien reported that Reid flew on the Israeli airline El Al in July and that he spent several days in Egypt during that trip.
Reid, who is also known as Abdel Rahim, was one of hundreds of young Muslims, many of them new converts, who had allegedly been wooed by British-based extremists, according to Baker at the London mosque.
Baker said loosely organized groups of militants would approach the young men outside the mosque and urge them to attend lectures at a rented recreational center.
He had little luck pushing the recruiters more than a few hundred yards from his two-story brick house of worship. Once, Baker said, a group of about 50 of them barged into his mosque and tried to seize a microphone to speak to worshippers.
Baker said his warnings to the authorities were ignored and Peter Herbert, deputy chairman of London’s Metropolitan Police Authority, said officers may have failed to act on such allegations of extremist activity.
“Many things that may have been looked at with more scrutiny after Sept. 11 were not looked (at) in such a way beforehand,” Herbert told the British Broadcasting Corp.
Reid — the London-born son of an English mother and a Jamaican father — converted to Islam while in prison for petty crimes and came to the Brixton Mosque in 1996, after his release, Baker said.
He described Reid as mild-mannered and friendly then, brimming with curiosity about his new Muslim faith. He slept on the mosque’s floor until he found a place to live and attended daily prayer services while he worked making incense sticks.
“Quite a few found him very likable,” Baker said.
Reid’s attendance at the mosque coincided with that of Moussaoui, a Frenchman of Moroccan descent whom U.S. prosecutors allege was involved in the plot to attack the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Moussaoui’s mother, Aicha Moussaoui, left Paris for Washington on Thursday in an effort to see her son and attend his Jan. 2 arraignment in an Alexandria, Virginia court.
“I hope that there will be a fair trial that will show what he did or did not do,” Mrs. Moussaoui said on French television.
A Paris airport security firm said Thursday that it had warned French authorities on two different days that Reid should be screened further, but authorities cleared him to fly.
Lior Zucker, who heads the security firm ICTS, said his security officers recommended Friday and Saturday that French authorities take a closer look at Reid. ICTS does security screening for American Airlines in France and in other European countries.
He would not go into details about why his agents were suspicious of Reid.
Zucker said French authorities “did very well” to detect Reid as a potential threat on Friday, but said it didn’t follow through with a full screening on Saturday to determine what he might be carrying once on board the plane.
For Reid to get through carrying explosives, “there must’ve been at least one weak link in the security screening process — and that one weak link was not checking his shoes,” said Zucker.
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