WASHINGTON – Shoe-bomb suspect Richard Reid was an Al Qaeda-trained terrorist hellbent on blowing up an American Airlines jet over the Atlantic Ocean and killing everyone aboard, the U.S. government charged Thursday.
In a nine-count, 12-page indictment handed down in Boston, the government alleged that the British-born Reid received training from Al Qaeda terrorists in Afghanistan and attempted to kill the 197 passengers and crew aboard American Airlines Flight 63 from Paris to Miami on Dec. 22.
Attorney General John Ashcroft, calling Reid an "Al Qaeda-trained terrorist," hailed the indictment as fresh proof of the government's ability to prosecute terrorists.
The charges "alert us to a clear, unmistakable threat that Al Qaeda could attack the United States again," Ashcroft said. "We must be prepared. We must be ready. We must be vigilant."
Reid was formally accused of:
• attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction;
• attempted murder;
• attempted homicide;
• placing an explosive device on an aircraft;
• two charges of interfering with a flight crew;
• attempted destruction of an aircraft;
• using a destructive device during a crime of violence;
• attempted wrecking of a mass transportation vehicle.
Ashcroft said Reid could be sentenced to five life terms if convicted on the charges brought against him.
The charge of attempted wrecking of a mass transportation vehicle was recently created by Congress in an anti-terrorism bill enacted after the Sept. 11 attacks.
The indictment said Reid did "attempt to use a weapon of mass destruction ... consisting of an explosive bomb placed in each of his shoes" and that he "received training from Al Qaeda in Afghanistan," but it provided no other details about Reid's alleged ties to the network.
Tamar Birckhead, one of Reid's court-appointed attorneys, said the indictment does not accuse Reid of acting for a terrorist group.
"We note that the indictment does not allege that any of the crimes charged were committed on behalf of or to further the cause of Al Qaeda or any other terrorist organization," Birckhead said in a statement. "We are aware of no basis for such an allegation."
Reid has been held without bail since his arrest Dec. 22 on the lesser charge of interfering with a flight crew. He is scheduled to be arraigned Friday in U.S. District Court in Boston.
"The charges contained in the indictment are exceptionally serious and reflective of our intention to prosecute Richard Reid to the fullest extent of the law," said Michael J. Sullivan, U.S. attorney for Massachusetts.
A U.S. official said Reid may be an Al Qaeda target scout, and an Israeli official said it was possible Reid was gathering intelligence for large-scale terrorist attacks in Tel Aviv and other cities. Both spoke on condition of anonymity.
Reid converted to Islam while in prison for petty crimes. He later worshipped at the same London mosque as Zacarias Moussaoui, charged with conspiracy in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Reid's travels match those of an Al Qaeda operative known as Abdul Ra'uff, which are listed in a computer obtained in Afghanistan by The Wall Street Journal. The similarities in the pair's movements in Europe and the Middle East have led investigators to suspect they are the same person.
Like Ra'uff, Reid obtained a new British passport in Amsterdam, the paper said, and had flown from Amsterdam to Tel Aviv on an El Al flight.
The operative scouted locations for attacks throughout Israel, and from there proceeded to do the same in Egypt, said the paper. He concluded that it was possible to move explosives from the West Bank town of Bethlehem to Jerusalem because soldiers did not check the travel bag of a British passport-bearer.
Earlier this week, a U.S. military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said one of the Al Qaeda prisoners at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, had identified Reid as someone he had trained with at a camp run by Al Qaeda.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.