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Man on Airplane Suspected of Carrying Explosives is in Custody

Aired December 22, 2001 - 19:30   ET


CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Carol Lin at the CNN center in Atlanta. "CAPITAL GANG" continues in just a moment, but first we want to bring you the very latest on a developing story out of Boston.

Authorities say an American Airlines flight was diverted to Boston's Logan International Airport today after a passenger tried to set some explosives apparently hidden inside his shoes. The man described as about 28 years old with a British passport, was ultimately subdued, and is now in custody. And it seems that the FAA may have known that something like this might have happened.

Kelly Wallace at the White House with more on this -- Kelly.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well Carol, we can tell you a couple things. First, federal official here in Washington are saying that the FBI is still trying to determine if the materials found in that individual's shoes are definitely explosives.

And as you mentioned, the individual in custody, according to a spokesman with the FBI office in Boston, for quote, "interference with a flight crew."

Now, we know President Bush was notified earlier Saturday; that he has had a briefing since that notification. He is at the presidential retreat at Camp David. The White House saying it has been monitoring the situation since late Saturday morning, when it became aware of it.

And also, as we have been reporting, according to a North American Aerospace Defense Command spokesperson, two F-15 fighter jets intercepted that America Airlines plane and escorted it to Boston's Logan International Airport. One U.S. official telling me that those planes intercepted the flight as soon as it entered American airspace.

And Carl, what you're mentioning, CNN has obtained what is called a civil aviation security information circular. Now, this goes out to all the airlines; it also goes out to airline personnel. According to this circular, the U.S. government had received additional information dated December 3 of this month that suggested the possibility of terrorist hijackings of airliners from either the U.S. or Europe.

This circular goes on to say that the threat may encompass the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which ended around December 17, and extend through the traditional holiday travel season. In this circular it says, quote: "We are concerned that hijackers may attempt to smuggle disassembled weapons onboard an airliner by hiding weapon components within their shoes."

Now, we really have to caution, this is information we're bringing to you -- CNN has obtained this circular. Obviously a concern going out to airlines and airline personnel about the possibility of additional hijackings of U.S. airliners, U.S. or Europe, throughout the holiday season. At (sic) no way can we connect the two and say that the situation in Boston right now involves any possible potential hijacking.

Obviously there's a continued threat out there, as we've heard from U.S. officials, Carol. And again, all we're hearing is the investigation ongoing to determine if, in fact, those were explosives.

Carol, back to you.

LIN: Kelly, does the administration know any more about this young man?

WALLACE: We are not getting much from here, Carol. Absolutely nothing, and even from the FBI. All the information that has come out, really, is from Massachusetts aviation officials so far, about the man's name, about that he was carrying a British passport. But no information of that matter is coming from any officials here. So we're continuing to monitor it. Right now just in custody for, quote, "interference" with a flight crew -- Carol.

LIN: Kelly, you may or may not know the answer to this question, but we were just wondering, since we heard that it was the flight attendants and the passengers who tackled this man on the flight, what ever happened to that idea of having armed federal agents onboard flights?

WALLACE: Well, that is happening on domestic flights. Definitely, there are armed Federal Marshals on many flights. Obviously the new bill that President Bush signed into law earlier -- just weeks ago, in fact -- would call for having armed Federal Marshals on all domestic flights around the country.

You raise a very good point. I can't really answer what the rules are -- the protocol. Obviously this is an international flight; a flight that originated in Paris, destination Miami, diverted to Boston. So not clear about that.

But, again, you do note how the flight attendants responded, apparently; how some passengers responded as well. And clearly people are on a higher state of alert following the September 11 attacks. And that is something the administration has tried to continue to get the message out -- people need to be vigilant -- just to be looking around to see if there are any threats around them -- Carol.

LIN: Sure; absolutely. And of course, such a busy weekend for people traveling, trying to get home for Christmas.

WALLACE: Absolutely. LIN: Thank you. All right, Kelly Wallace live at the White House, thank you very much.

Right now we want to go to Boston's Logan International Airport. We've got Garvin Thomas standing by there. He is with WHDH, our Boston affiliate, standing by there.

Garvin, what is the situation at the airport right now? Are things up and running again?

GARVIN THOMAS, WHDH REPORTER: Things are up and running. The airport was never shut down.

As far as the airplane itself that came in, the airplane is at a secured section of the airport. To quote one Massport official, he said they're going over it with a fine-tooth comb. They have separated that plane from the rest of the airfield and are going over that.

As far as the other passengers, there were 185 passengers and 12 crew members on this flight. They have been taken to a secure area of one of the terminals. They are being held off from the general population in a separate section because, of course, the FBI wants to go in and talk to each and every one of those passengers who was on the flight, find out exactly what they saw and what they may know. No idea about when they're going to be allowed to continue on their flight back to -- or continue on their flight to Miami.

As far as the suspect, he is being held here at a state police barracks on the airport grounds, although we are hearing that he will be transported at some point tonight to Mass General Hospital.

Now to go back a little about what happened on the plane. A flight attendant was alerted to something suspicious when she smelled sulfur -- what the smell is when a match is struck. And she went to investigate, went to row 29, we understand, found this man. And although it sounds strange, he was trying to light -- what she said, he was trying to light his shoe on fire.

Of course, she tried to stop him right then. Got into an altercation with the suspect. Two flight attendants got into the flight. At one point one of the flight attendants had her hand bitten. She was taken to the hospital as well.

While the flight attendants tackled the man, passengers also helped. They tackled the man, subdued him. From what I understand, they took belts and strapped him into the seat. Some doctors onboard administered sedatives to the man. They said three times during the flight they gave him sedatives.

It is not clear at this point where those sedatives came from, but one assumption, though, is that there is a medical kit onboard that airplane, and that the doctors accessed the medical kit and gave the sedatives to the suspect in that manner.

The plane landed. They got the passengers off, took them to a secure area of the terminal, took the suspect into custody. And then, obviously, they had these shoes to deal with. They took them and X- rayed them; discovered what looks like wires and explosive materials that they say could be C-4.

They didn't want to do anything more to it at the point then, so they removed it to another secure part of the airport and they detonated it. What they will do with a suspicious device like this is they will blow it up in a controlled explosion to make it harmless. Then they take the components, go back to an FBI lab, investigate further as to whether it was, in fact, a bomb that could have gone off.

Now as I said all that -- the suspect is in custody here, going through that struggle he went through, being administered the sedatives -- not sure if that is the reason why he's going to be taken to the airport (sic) or not.

A little more on the suspect we got from the airport officials here. About 28 years old, they said. And from -- the director of security said by looking at him, he said he did seem to be of Middle Eastern decent, but that is just an assumption based on somebody looking at the man.

He was traveling on a UK, or a British passport that had been issued just three weeks ago out of Belgium, and the name on the passport was Richard Reid. We asked they security officials here whether they believed that was the man's name, they say that is very doubtful. They've had some Immigration-Naturalization Service people look at the passport, and they said it does not look to be genuine.

That's the latest here from Logan Airport -- Carol.

LIN: Garvin, you make a very good point about assuming what -- you know, what ethnicity the man is until they find out a little bit more about him.

You also talked about some speculation there after they X-rayed the shoes that there were, in fact, explosives in those shoes. It was the, I think, the aviation director who was making the speculation that it was C-4 compound in nature. But really -- just make sure you give us some perspective here -- nobody really knows if these shoes were, in fact, wired. It was just that the man claimed that they were, right, and that they saw some sort of substance. They really don't know what it is that was inside those shoes right?

THOMAS: Exactly. The -- airport officials here said it seemed to be an explosive substance consistent with C-4. But we're not going to know, one, if that is, in fact, what it was; and then two, whether -- I mean, it's not just something anybody can pick up and make a bomb out of, you need some expertise -- whether he just had the materials and knew what to do with (sic).

So that's what the FBI is going to go into, answer two questions: What were the materials in the shoes? And then, were they put together in such a way that if he had succeeded in lighting it, would it have exploded? LIN: There you go. I mean, he could have just been a crackpot making a wild claim, but they to be careful to be sure.


LIN: Thank you very much Garvin Thomas, reporting live for us at Logan International Airport.

Of course, the facts that we do know are that once the flight attendant detected the smell of sulfur when this man played the claim, the flight attendants, as well as some of the passengers responded by tackling this suspect inside the plane and restraining him.

Joining us on the telephone right now is D.J. Johnson. D.J. is a flight attendant. He is based out of Denver.

D.J. can you hear me?


LIN: All right. What are the directions that you are being given now to deal with a situation like this? It seems to me that flight attendants are now like the Marines -- you know, the first in, and on the front lines.

JOHNSON: Well, we're the first and we're the last line of defense, as you can tell, with the cockpit doors being restrained and protected more, you're not going to find the pilots coming out to assist you in any way. So the flight attendants are more aware of the situation around them. And -- like in this situation, you seen the eyes, the ears and the feeling of the flight attendants alerted them and directed them to a situation in the cabin that -- basically they went to row 29 and found that a passenger had this smell of sulfur, and they actually asked him what he was doing.

LIN: But D.J., are you actually trained to restrain people?

JOHNSON: We are, actually, working on more ways of restraining, and protecting the cabin. You know, it's a fluid environment right now, and it's actually a learning environment since September 11. And we're doing everything we can to train the flight attendants.

But you'll find now that this particular situation, you'll see that the flight attendants are more aware. And actually, they're directed to be alert of situations. And when it comes to a situation like this, they'll alert and direct passengers to help them with that situation.

LIN: All right. D.J. Johnson, you've got a tough job. It's more than just service ahead now, it's security and protection onboard.

JOHNSON: You're right.

LIN: All right; respect those flight attendants. We are going to go back to "CAPITAL GANG" right now, but we're going to keep an eye on this breaking news and keep you posted.




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