French Police Say Man Is Sri Lankan National
PARIS – French police said Sunday the man who boarded a jetliner with possible explosives hidden in his shoes was a 28-year-old Sri Lankan national traveling on a British passport.
American Airlines Flight 63 from Paris to Miami was forced to make an emergency landing in Boston on Saturday after the passenger, identified by French police as Tariq Raja, tried to ignite what authorities called an improvised explosive in his sneakers.
An official with the French Border Police, which opened an investigation Sunday into the incident, said they learned of Raja's identity and nationality from sources in the United States. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, would not say whether the information came from U.S. law enforcement authorities, government aviation officials or American Airlines.
Raja, who the French official said was traveling on a British passport under the name Richard Colvin Reid, was quickly subdued, and the jetliner with 185 passengers and 12 crew members on board landed safely at Logan International Airport.
French police were investigating reports that Raja tried to take the same flight on Friday. They also want to know how he managed to get on board Saturday given the heightened security put in place after the Sept. 11 terrorist hijackings in the United States.
"For the moment, we do not know how this man got through," said another official for French Border Police, which shares responsibility for security at all airports in France with the Interior Ministry.
"He had a British passport, and we're trying to determine whether it was falsified," the official said.
About a dozen sniffer dogs — animals specially trained to detect explosive substances — are stationed at Charles de Gaulle airport, and French Border Police have asked for up to 100.
However, an air transportation expert told The Associated Press that it is "practically impossible" to have enough dogs to ferret out explosives that might be hidden among the tens of thousands of passengers who board flights daily.
"We don't want to put dogs all over the airport. They are living beings, not machines, and they can't work 24 hours a day," the expert said on condition of anonymity. Dogs are best used to inspect individual passengers who arouse suspicions, he said.
The U.S. Embassy in Paris, where security has been an overriding concern, had no immediate comment on the incident. On Sept. 10, French prosecutors began looking into an alleged plot to attack the embassy and other American interests in Europe.