WASHINGTON – Aided by intelligence from foreign police, U.S. authorities are reconstructing Richard Reid's recent travels across Europe and the Mideast looking for any ties to terrorist groups, government officials said Thursday.
Initial testing on the material found in Reid's shoes also indicated the presence of PETN, a material used to make the explosive Semtex that was detonated by Libyan terrorists to down Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in the late 1980s, the officials said.
The tests also indicated there was no metal in the shoes, and that the bomb may have been foiled in part because the nonmetal fuse picked up enough moisture to make it difficult to ignite, the officials said, speaking only on condition of anonymity.
U.S. officials cautioned they haven't drawn any conclusions yet about whether Reid was acting alone or was part of an organized terrorist group when he allegedly tried to detonate explosives hidden in his shoes on an international flight last week.
Some officials who have been briefed on the investigation said the growing portrait of Reid suggests he may have had help.
"I would doubt very seriously he did it by himself," said Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the House aviation subcommittee. He called the construction of the shoe bombs a sophisticated operation.
But one of Reid's court-appointed lawyers said she knew of no evidence connecting her client to terrorists.
"We are unaware of any evidence to support a link between the offense charged and any terrorist organization or individual," assistant federal public defender Tamar R. Birckhead said. "We urge the press and the public to maintain open minds."
Reid is scheduled to appear in court Friday in Boston.
Federal investigators are carefully retracing Reid's movements in the last six months, reviewing reports and records from foreign police and intelligence suggesting he traveled or spent money in Israel, Egypt, the Netherlands, Belgium and France.
Among those travels, a few stops have drawn increased scrutiny, the officials said.
FBI agents are exploring whether Reid purchased any explosive materials or shoes during a recent stop in Amsterdam, and whether he was stopped by security officials suspicious about his shoes before he boarded a plane in Israel earlier this summer, the officials said.
The Dutch secret service said Thursday it was investigating reports that Reid was in the Netherlands in December, allegedly to purchase the shoes.
"We are looking into the case and whether Mr. Reid was in Amsterdam," said spokesman Vincent van Steen of the Internal Security Service
An Israeli security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there were indications Reid visited Israel several months ago.
The Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot reported Reid visited that country in June for a week. Reid was questioned by security personnel but later released, the newspaper said.
Across the world in Afghanistan, U.S. officials are attempting to corroborate claims from some low-level Al Qaeda prisoners that Reid trained with them at Usama bin Laden's camps in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, authorities continued to reconstruct Reid's final movements in December. They said they believe he went to Amsterdam and then Brussels, Belgium, where he got a new British passport.
Officials said they believe Reid took a train Dec. 16 to Paris, where he bought, in cash, his airline ticket for the American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami.
He was scheduled to leave on that flight last Friday but missed the jetliner because he was questioned by French authorities. He then made it onto the same flight Saturday.
Reid was overpowered by flight attendants and passengers after he allegedly tried to detonate explosives. The flight was diverted to Boston, where he was arrested and charged with intimidation or assault of a flight crew.
Reid's mother in England, Lesley Hughes, released a statement through a law firm Thursday saying "she has no knowledge of this matter" other than what she has learned from 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," the statement said.
U.S. authorities are also examining whether foreign authorities missed some opportunities to detect Reid's plans.
The security company at the Paris airport reportedly twice objected to letting Reid board because he raised concerns in the passenger profiling system — a new passport, a one-way ticket paid in cash, no checked luggage, and a small carryon, officials said. He was permitted to board the Saturday flight.
In Britain, the leader of the mosque that Reid attended said local police failed to act on warnings that Islamic radicals were recruiting young Muslims at his mosque.
Authorities have confirmed both Reid and Zacarias Moussaoui, the first man charged with conspiracy to murder thousand in the Sept. 11 attacks, worshipped at the Brixton mosque in south London.
"We've been saying for a long time that these people are recruiting," said Abdul Haqq Baker, the mosque's chairman. "We've been warning about them, and look what's happened now."