WASHINGTON – The government on Wednesday filed a nine-count indictment against shoe-bomb suspect Richard Reid, accusing the London-born terror suspect of trying to kill everyone aboard an American Airlines jet over the Atlantic Ocean last month.
In a 12-page indictment handed down in Boston, the government alleged that Reid received training from Al Qaeda terrorists in Afghanistan and attempted to kill the passengers on 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 attorney general credited passengers and crew on Flight 63 with stopping Reid from detonating the shoe bomb and bringing down the plane. The suspect was overpowered by flight attendants and passengers as he allegedly tried to light a fuse protruding from his sneakers.
"Our trust in the common sense of people who act in the face of terrorism was vindicated," Ashcroft said.
He noted that the final charge — attempted wrecking of a mass transportation vehicle — was created by Congress in an anti-terrorism bill enacted in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington.
"Our ability to prosecute terrorists has been greatly enhanced by the U.S.A. Patriot Act," Ashcroft said.
According to the indictment, "Richard Reid did attempt to use a weapon of mass destruction, consisting of an explosive bomb placed in each of his shoes" against Americans.
Reid "did place on that aircraft explosive devices contained in the footwear he was then wearing," the indictment said, referring to the American flight.
There were 183 passengers and 14 crew members on the flight, which was escorted into Boston's Logan Airport.
On the charge of interfering with the flight crew, the indictment said Reid assaulted and intimidated flight attendants Hermis Moutardier and Christina Jones.
Federal authorities associate the alleged Al Qaeda training in connection with the counts of attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction and a second count, of attempted homicide.
Reid's court-appointed defense attorney, Tamar Birckhead, did not immediately return a call for comment.
A U.S. official speaking on condition of anonymity had said earlier that Reid may be an al-Qaida target scout known as "Abdul Ra'uff." Reid's travels match those of Ra'uff, which are listed in a computer obtained in Afghanistan by a Wall Street Journal reporter. The similarities in the pair's movements in Europe and the Middle East have led investigators to suspect that Ra'uff and Reid are the same person.
Reid converted to Islam while in prison for petty crimes. He later worshipped at the same south London mosque as Zacarias Moussaoui, charged with conspiracy in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
FBI agent Margaret G. Cronin testified in late December that Reid was carrying "functioning improvised explosives, or, in layman's terms, a homemade bomb."
She said an explosives expert concluded that if the sneakers had been placed against an outside wall and detonated, they "would have blown a hole in the fuselage." Reid was in a window seat.
Cronin said preliminary tests on Reid's sneakers showed the presence of triacetone triperoxide, TATP, a highly volatile plastic explosive. She said she did not know if the explosive devices in Reid's sneakers could have been detonated with a match, as Reid allegedly tried to do. The sneakers are undergoing further tests.
Reid is being held without bail in Plymouth, Mass., because he's considered a risk to the public and likely to flee if released.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.