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Official: Plastic explosive 'very sophisticated'

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The plastic explosive that a passenger allegedly tried to detonate aboard a trans-Atlantic American Airlines flight last week was "very, very sophisticated," a U.S. official told CNN on Wednesday.

Officials say Richard Reid hid 10 ounces of PETN-based material, a version of the plastic explosive C4 that is very sensitive to heat and friction, in each of his shoes when he boarded Flight 63 in Paris on December 22.

"It would have taken a high level of high intelligence and know-how to construct this type of bomb," a U.S. official said. The complicated nature of the explosive has led authorities to believe Reid likely had an accomplice, government sources said.

Investigators, the official noted, have also found a safety fuse -- black powder packed inside a cord that is attached to and designed to detonate the explosive.

Passengers and crew subdued Reid, 28, after an attendant on the flight, bound from Paris, France, to Miami, Florida, noticed him trying to use a match to set fire to his shoes. The British national is under suicide watch in a Plymouth jail, about 30 miles south of Boston, charged with interfering with a flight crew.

CNN's Susan Candiotti says suspected shoe bomber Richard Reid and indicted suspect Zaccarias Moussaoui attended the same London mosque (December 26)

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Some al Qaeda detainees in Afghanistan claimed to recognize Reid in a photograph shown them by U.S. interrogators, officials said. U.S. authorities cautioned they had no independent confirmation tying Reid with either al Qaeda or the Taliban.

However, one senior official said these reports "open the door" to the possibility of a connection.

Meanwhile, in Britain, a mosque official said that both Reid and Zacarias Moussaoui -- the only person to date charged with conspiracy in the September 11 terrorist attacks in America -- attended Brixton Mosque in south London.

Brixton Mosque chairman Abdul Haqq Baker said Moussaoui and Reid's time at the mosque overlapped in late 1998 or early 1999, but he was not certain if the two had ever met.

"Towards the end of [Reid's] stay with us, we noticed he started wearing the army green jacket, and started questioning our understanding of Islam based on what he had learned elsewhere," Baker said.

Those questions, Baker said, pertained to suicide bombings and other terrorist activities -- activities Baker said "alarmed and disgusted" members of his mosque. But they were views that dovetailed with those of Moussaoui.

"He came before ... Mr. Reid, and he came from France," Baker said of Moussaoui.

"His views changed quite quickly and he was very vocal and somewhat arrogant. I cannot say that they met, because Reid came at the tail end of when Zacarias was asked to leave, so I cannot say for certain. But it is highly probably that they met."

Reid, he said, has not been seen at the mosque for at least two years, and he had no idea what Reid may have done after leaving. But, Baker said, he doubted Reid would or could have acted alone.

"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,'" Baker told The Times of London. He suggested that Reid may have been testing a new method of terror delivery.

Reid boarded the December 22 flight a day after authorities detained him for suspicious behavior. He was cleared, but missed his original flight and spent the night at a Paris hotel courtesy of American Airlines, sources told CNN.

George Fergusson of the British Consulate in Boston said officials believe Reid was British-born and that his British passport "so far as we are concerned" is legitimate. He said he does not have any further information about the suspect's background or his parents.

-- CNN Correspondent Susan Candiotti contributed to this report.




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