LONDON – The leader of a south London mosque, whose members once included a man now suspected of trying to detonate explosives aboard an airliner, says police failed to act on repeated warnings that radicals were recruiting young Muslims.
Richard C. Reid, who formerly attended the Brixton mosque, was overpowered by flight attendants and passengers after he allegedly tried to detonate explosives in his sneaker aboard an American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami on Saturday.
Abdul Haqq Baker, leader of the mosque, said Reid — also known as Abdel Rahim — drifted away from the Brixton community after falling under the influence of radicals.
``We have been in contact with the police numerous times over the last five years to warn of the threat posed by militant groups operating in our area,'' Baker was quoted as saying in Thursday's editions of The Times.
``Only now are they bothering to follow it up. My fear is this is all too little too late.''
Reid has been charged with intimidation or assault of a flight crew and could face 20 years in prison. He is being held in jail under suicide watch pending a psychological examination.
According to news reports, Reid was born in south London in 1973, the son of a Jamaican father and an English mother. He joined the Brixton mosque in 1996 after serving a prison sentence for street crimes, the reports said. Scotland Yard has declined to give any details of Reid's record.
Reid joined the mosque at about the same time as Zacarias Moussaoui, a Frenchman of Moroccan descent charged in the United States with conspiracy in connection with the Sept. 11, Baker said.
ABC News reported Wednesday that European authorities have evidence of contact between Moussaoui and Reid late last year, and that the two spent time together in a training camp in Afghanistan run by Usama bin Laden's al Qaeda network.
ABC News quoted unidentified sources as saying that some Al Qaeda suspects detained in Afghanistan have identified Reid from pictures shown to them by interrogators.
``At the end of Zacarias Moussaoui being in the community and spouting off his views, it was true that Mr. Reid was attending at the same time,'' Baker said. ``I'm pretty confident they were attending the extreme scholarship classes being held by some of the extremists who could not attend our center.''
Talking to reporters on Wednesday, Baker said he doubted that Reid could have acted alone.
``He was one who was easily led — the way the whole thing was bungled is because of his naivety,'' Baker said.
``The way he tried to commit this act shows his gullibility. He was sent as a tester though he was not to know that. We are confident he was not acting alone.''
The mosque, located in a row of Victorian houses, has a young, multicultural membership that includes a large number of converts. It teaches ``basic, mainstream orthodox'' Islam, but has attracted some ``extreme elements'' who targeted enthusiastic converts like Reid, Baker said.
Baker suggested Reid might have had contact with more radical mosques such as the Finsbury Park mosque in north London, home of militant Egyptian-born cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri.
Al-Masri said he had no knowledge of Reid.
``I don't know about the guy, actually,'' he told the BBC.
Investigators are still attempting to confirm the suspect's identity. London's Times newspaper and a French police official both have identified Reid as a British petty criminal with an English mother and a Jamaican father.
After the man's arrest Saturday, French officials initially said they thought he was from Sri Lanka, but Sri Lanka said later he was not a citizen.
A report Tuesday in France's La Provence newspaper, citing police and intelligence sources, said Reid had belonged to an Islamic movement called Tabliq but left because he said it was ``not radical enough'' for him.
The FBI has said more charges are likely.
Head of security firm IVTC Lior Zucker 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.
Zucker would not go into details about why his agents were suspicious of Reid.