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Shoe Bomber Sentenced to Life in Prison

January 30, 2003

BOSTON (AP) _ A judge sentenced Richard Reid, a self-described member of al-Qaida, to life in prison Thursday for trying to blow up a trans-Atlantic jetliner with explosives hidden in his shoes.

Reid, 29, claimed he tried to blow up the flight bound from Paris to Miami out of love for Islam, the religion he credits with saving him from a life of drug abuse and poverty.

Reid, a British citizen, admitted he tried to ignite shoe bombs aboard American Airlines Flight 63 on Dec. 22, 2001, three months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks left many Americans afraid to fly.

In court Thursday, Reid angrily denounced American foreign policy against Islamic countries.

``Your government has sponsored the torture of muslims in Iraq, and Turkey, and Jordan and Syria with their money and weapons,″ he said, before then telling the judge ``it’s in your hands.″

Passengers and crew members overpowered Reid, using seat belts and their own belts to strap him to his seat, after he futilely tried to light a fuse protruding from one of his ankle-high hiking boots. Two doctors who were passengers on the plane injected him with sedatives, and the flight was then diverted to Boston.

Under federal sentencing guidelines, Reid faced 60 years to life in prison.

As he pleaded guilty to the charges in October, Reid said he was a member of the terrorist group al-Qaida and declared his hatred for the United States.

But in a memo to the court before his sentencing, Reid’s lawyers say he did not try to blow up the plane with 197 passengers aboard to wage war against America. They say he ``took no pleasure″ in it, but did it to defend Islam, which he believes has been under attack by the United States. ``He well knew that he would cause untold pain and grief even if only a few people were killed, but he says that this was outweighed in his mind by his firm belief ... that this country in recent years has caused the deaths of millions of Muslims,″ his lawyers wrote.

``Islam″ means ‘submission’ and Mr. Reid thinks of himself as being _ or, rather as trying to be _ a protector of his religion.″

Reid’s lawyers say Reid credits his religion with saving him from a life of despair. They describe a troubled childhood and young adulthood, when Reid was plagued by poverty, feelings of uselessness, racism and crime. Reid is the son of a British mother and a Jamaican father.

Prosecutors said the powerful plastics explosives in Reid’s shoes could have blown a hole in the plane’s fuselage and killed all 197 people on board.

In arguing for Reid to receive a life sentence, prosecutors earlier this month submitted a videotaped demonstration, showing a fiery explosion causing massive damage aboard a wide-bodied jet.

Reid’s lawyers called the video ``inflammatory″ and ``misleading,″ and criticized prosecutors for releasing it publicly.

Reid’s lawyers claim the video does not accurately represent what could have happened if Reid ignited his shoe bombs because the tape was not made specifically for Reid’s case, but in 1998, three years earlier.

Reid tried furiously to light a match to his shoes but he was unable to ignite the fuse. Authorities have speculated Reid’s shoes may have been too moist from sweat.

Three flight attendants struggled with Reid after they smelled sulfur from the matches he was using.

Flight attendant Hermis Moutardier told authorities Reid put a lit match in his mouth when she confronted him.

Moutardier told the captain and returned to see Reid with a match held to the tongue of his sneaker, then noticed a wire protruding from his right shoe. She said she tried to grab the shoe, but Reid pushed her to the floor and she screamed for help.

Another flight attendant, Cristina Jones, told authorities she saw Reid hunched over in his seat, trying to light something. She said Reid bit her hand when she tried to stop him.

Attendant Carole Nelson said that between 75 and 100 passengers jumped up from their seats and headed for Reid when they saw him struggling with flight attendants.

``He was wild. He had wild eyes. He was struggling. He was like a wild animal,″ Nelson testified during a pretrial hearing in June 2002.

On Thursday, just before Reid was sentenced, Nelson asked the judge to impose a life sentence.

``I believe that Richard Reid was on a mission of evil, a mission of destruction and a mission of murder,″ she said. ``Richard Reid put all of us on this flight under great stress and trauma.″

Federal authorities had been preparing for a high-security trial. But Reid stunned prosecutors when he said he wanted to plead guilty because he wanted to spare his family the pain and publicity a trial would bring.

When Reid entered his guilty plea in October, he said he was a follower of Osama bin Laden and declared his hatred for the United States. He was defiant when U.S. District Judge William Young told him that prosecutors planned to detail his links to the terrorism group al-Qaida at his sentencing hearing.

``I don’t care. I’m a member of al-Qaida, I pledge to Osama bin Laden and I’m an enemy of your country, and I don’t care,″ he said.

In their sentencing memorandum, prosecutors urge the judge to sentence Reid to life in prison, plus 30 years, calling him ``a committed terrorist who will remain so until his dying days.″

``By his own words, Reid refuses to apologize for attempting to kill 200 people,″ U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan said in his memo. ``Perhaps even more appalling, he blames the American people for the horrendous attacks and casualties caused by the al-Qaida terrorism organization to which he claims allegiance.

The FBI believes Reid had help making the bomb from ``an al-Qaida bomb maker,″ and authorities have said they found unidentified hair and a palm print on the explosives.

Reid was sentenced on eight charges, including: attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction, attempted homicide, placing an explosive device on an aircraft; attempted murder, two counts of interference with flight crew members and attendants, attempted destruction of aircraft, and using a destructive device during a crime of violence.

Security at U.S. District Court was tight for Reid’s sentencing. Armed police were stationed outside the courthouse, while three police boats patrolled Boston Harbor around the courthouse. Bomb-sniffing dogs were used by agents of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

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