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U.S. says Reid might have been al Qaeda scout

By David Ensor
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- "Very strong circumstantial evidence" exists that Richard Reid, the alleged would-be shoe bomber, went on a target scouting mission for al Qaeda to Israel and Egypt, U.S. officials said Wednesday.

Attorney General John Ashcroft told reporters his department had received evidence in the Reid case from the Wall Street Journal that could lead to additional indictments of the suspect.

The evidence consists of computer files taken from an al Qaeda safe house that the newspaper bought on the black market in Kabul for $1,100.

Among the copies of the files the newspaper passed to the Justice Department and the CIA, officials said, were ones detailing the trip of an al Qaeda agent named "brother Abdul Ra'uff," whom they suspect might be Reid.

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The agent flew to Tel Aviv in July from Amsterdam on the Israeli airline El Al and cased possible sites for terrorist attack in Jerusalem, Haifa and Bethlehem, according to the computer files.

The files said that Abdul Ra'uff, the holder of a British passport, discovered that holders of European passports did not appear to be as closely scrutinized at Israeli checkpoints as Palestinians or other nationals.

The report on the agent's trip said it might be possible to "bring explosives from Bethlehem to Jerusalem," according to the Wall Street Journal, because soldiers at checkpoints, once shown the agent's British passport did not search his travel bag.

A knowledgeable U.S. official said the travel route and timing described in the files for Abdul Ra'uff "parallel" the travel Richard Reid is known to have made to Israel and Egypt.

The official said that after visiting Israel the al Qaeda scout traveled through the Egyptian town of Ismailiya on his way to Cairo. He also traveled through Turkey.

The Wall Street Journal quoted a senior Israeli intelligence official as saying Israel was "positive" Reid was sent to Israel by al Qaeda to scope out possible targets.




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