A Brief History
On December 22, 2001, Richard Colvin Reid, age 28, of London, England, attempted to destroy an airliner in flight on its way to Miami, Florida by the use of explosives hidden in his shoe. The comically inept terrorist failed to ignite his bomb when he was interrupted while attempting to light the fuse with a match during the flight. Ever since, this career petty criminal turned radical Islamist has been known as “The Shoe Bomber.”
Reid was born in London in 1973 to a White English mother and a father of mixed heritage (Jamaican/African/White). He grew up to be a career petty criminal, engaging in graffiti and minor crimes, later graduating to strong arm robbery. This criminal was in and out of jail often during his youth, culminating in a 3 year sentence in 1992 for multiple robberies. In prison he became a convert to Islam and was radicalized against Western culture.
When released from prison in 1998 Reid associated with anti-American Muslim radicals, and caught the attention of terrorist recruiters. In 1999 and 2000 Reid traveled to Pakistan and Afghanistan where he was trained as a terrorist. Reid returned to Britain in 2000 and continued to travel to the Middle East and Europe, including to Israel. In 2001 Reid went to Afghanistan where he was given the infamous shoe bomb intended to take down a Western airliner.
Reid traveled to Paris, where he boarded American Airlines Flight 63 for Miami, Florida. (It seems the Islamic terrorists of that period were obsessed with American Airlines as if the company was the national airline of the United States or something.) When Reid tried to light the fuse to his shoe bomb, a passenger complained of smelling a lit match, and pointed Reid out to a flight attendant. Reid pretended he was going to light a cigarette and promised not to smoke when he was told he was not allowed to smoke. When Reid again attempted to light the fuse, the female flight attendant physically intervened, attempting to stop Reid from lighting the bomb. After twice pushing the woman to the floor, Reid continued to try to light the fuse, while the woman yelled for help and ran to get water to douse the fuse. A second flight attendant responded and attempted to subdue the 6 foot 4 inch 200+ pound Reid, who in turn bit the woman and punched her. Other passengers joined in and the large, ineffective terrorist was finally subdued.
Confined by zip ties and lashed down tightly with seatbelts, Reid was given a sedative injection by a doctor. The flight was diverted to Logan Airport in Boston, where Reid was arrested. Reid was later convicted of various terroristic crimes and sentenced to 3 life terms plus 110 years without parole in prison. He is being kept in a Supermax facility in Colorado.
Lucky for the people on the Boeing 767 jetliner, it seems a combination of rainy weather and Reid’s own sweaty feet made the fuse damp enough to fail to light. If the 280 grams of plastic explosives in the bomb had detonated it would probably have blown a sizeable hole in the airplane, quite possibly taking the plane down.
Although Reid failed to destroy the airliner, his actions resulted in the regular practice of forcing passengers to remove their shoes and offer them for inspection prior to boarding commercial flights. In the years since the incident, it is hard to say how much the extra couple minutes per every single airline passenger has cost the civilized world in reduced productivity. While it is easy to dismiss Reid as a goofy buffoon, our taxpayers are spending a fortune to house him safely for the rest of his life and air passengers pay the price every time they go through security.
In 2009, another incident eerily similar to the Shoe Bomber took place when another wanna-be terrorist attempted to detonate explosives in his underwear (earning the nick-name, Underwear Bomber).
The “Underwear Bomber” used the same explosives as Richard Reid, but this time he mixed them while in the bathroom of the airplane and injected acid into the mixture. This equally inept terrorist managed only to set his own pants on fire, burning those trousers off and charring his flesh. That man is also in the same Supermax prison as Reid, and like Reid, his actions resulted in even more aggravating procedures and regulations making flying on commercial airlines even more irritating and slowing things down.
Both of these incidents show just how close we came to losing 2 giant airliners with 200+ passengers each to relatively low tech, low intellect terrorist recruits. The thought is chilling. It seems all we can do is remain vigilant and do our best to intercept terrorists before they act. Otherwise, as occurred earlier with United Airlines Flight 93 on September 11, 2001, only personal courage of bystanders will have to do! Kudos to the passengers and crew members that subdued Richard Reid and other terrorist hopefuls as well as to those who sacrificed their own lives in attempts to thwart similar attacks.
Question for students (and subscribers): Have you had any interesting experiences flying since these incidents occurred? Please feel welcome to share your experiences in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Mueller, John, ed. Terrorism Since 9/11: The American Cases. The Educational Publisher/Biblio Publishing, 2015.
The featured image in this article, a photograph by FBI Laboratory published in the FBI Laboratory 2004 annual report from http://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/2005/july/shoe_bomb071805 of one of the explosive shoes of the 2001 “shoe bomber”, Richard Reid, is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work prepared by an officer or employee of the United States Government as part of that person’s official duties under the terms of Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 105 of the US Code.
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