Published January 13, 2015
The shoe bomb suspect could not have acted alone and frequented the same London mosque as the man believed to be the "20th hijacker" in the Sept.11 attacks, according to reports.
The man being held under the name Richard Reid, 28, converted to Islam while in prison and was a regular at the Brixton Mosque in South London, The Times of London reported Wednesday.
During that time, Reid worshipped with Zacarias Moussaoui, a Frenchman of Moroccan origin who is now being held in federal prison in Virginia for his alleged role in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Moussaoui is charged with six counts of conspiracy, four of which could carry the death penalty.
Two U.S. government officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said on Wednesday that some low-level Al Qaeda members captured in Afghanistan were shown Reid's picture and recognized him, saying he trained at Usama bin Laden's terrorist training camps in the country.
But the officials said they had not verified the prisoners' claims. The prisoners could be wrong or lying to confuse or gain favor with their interrogators, the officials cautioned.
The leader of Brixton Mosque said Reid was probably on a test mission when he apparently tried to detonate C-4 plastic explosive packed into his shoes on American Airlines Flight 63 from Paris to Miami last Saturday.
"No way could he do this on his own," said Abdul Haqq Baker, an outspoken critic of bin Laden and his virulent brand of anti-American Islam. "He doesn't have the capacity to think: 'I’m going to get these explosives, I know where to get these explosives from, I’ll put them in my shoe.'"
Reid, who attended the mosque for two years, became more extreme in his views over time, Baker said. While the Brixton Mosque teaches "basic, mainstream orthodox" Islam, it has attracted some "extreme elements" who targeted enthusiastic converts like Reid, Baker said.
"I would say he was very, very impressionable," Baker said of Reid.
Reid, who appeared in court in Boston on Christmas Eve, is accused of assaulting flight attendants. But authorities said they are looking at more serious charges against him, and continue to investigate possible links to bin Laden's Al Qaeda organization.
Officials have cautioned they still have no hard evidence linking Reid with Moussaoui. But they said the investigation is still in its early stages.
British officials believe Reid was born in southeast London in the summer of 1973. His English mother, Lesley, came to Brixton Mosque looking for her son several months ago after he went to Pakistan and stopped communicating with his family.
His father Colvin is Jamaican. The couple married in East London, a year before he was born. A streetwise South Londoner, Reid was apparently radicalized by contact with London-based extremists.
He arrived at Brixton Mosque as a worshipper several years ago and was known by the name Abdel Rahim. A petty criminal with a string of convictions for street crime such as muggings, he is believed to have served time in several prisons. He converted to Islam while in custody.
He joined the Arabic classes at Brixton Mosque and completed the first of three books teaching Arabic. He was proficient enough to write to fellow worshippers in Arabic when he went abroad recently.
Both Moussaoui and Reid followed a similar path of conversion to radical Islam, according to reports. They appear to have been targeted by London-based extremists who encouraged them to challenge the teachings of Brixton.
Baker said Reid had once been "an amiable, happy-go-lucky individual, always wanting to get involved in things and helping. He was very keen to learn the basics of Islam."
The mosque had found Reid a job making incense sticks for Black Crescent, a company that provides employment for Muslims. The sticks are sold outside Brixton station.
At first, Reid used to come for prayer wearing fashionable Western street clothes. He had just started a beard when he first arrived at the mosque, then let it grow to full-length.
He also began to wear a traditional Muslim thobe. He originally wore this beneath fashionable jackets, but eventually replaced these with military tops.
"By the time he left he was clearly arguing for this fight with the non-Muslims and this warped understanding of jihad," Baker said. "Some of my colleagues remember clearly the heated discussions they had with him saying this belief in jihad is wrong."
Reid took a path that many prisoners may be following. Muslims make up the fourth largest group of inmates in prisons in England and Wales. Their numbers doubled between 1993 and 2000.
Investigators have not identified the type of explosive material found in devices in Reid's sneakers, but say preliminary FBI tests determined the devices were functional. A source familiar with the preliminary tests who spoke on condition anonymity said the substance could have been a plastic explosive.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.