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FBI Holds Man Who Allegedly Tried to Ignite Explosives in Shoes Aboard American Airlines Flight

Aired December 22, 2001 - 22:00   ET


CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: And now we've got more on today's breaking news. The FBI is holding a man who allegedly tried to set off explosives hidden in his shoes on a flight from Paris to Miami today.

CNN Boston Bureau chief Bill Delaney is at Logan International Airport right now following the story. Bill, it's hard to believe, if it weren't actually true. Tell us what happened?

BILL DELANEY, CNN BOSTON BUREAU CHIEF: A very strange story. You know, American flight 63 must have started off as quite a festive flight. 185 passengers on board, 12 crew members. And they were on their way from Paris to Miami. They didn't get there. They were interrupted in mid flight by a passenger who, it was determined, seemed to have, may have had some of explosive, possible C-4, in his shoes.

When that was determined, the flight was interrupted. They were escorted by F-15s into here, Logan Airport, Boston's airport. Now what happened, apparently, was that a flight attendant smelled something sulfury. She went down to row 29, where she encountered a passenger with a lit match, possibly a lit match down around the vicinity around his shoes. She asked him what was going on, Carol. And he said, "I'm wired."

Now we don't know the exact sequence of what happened next. What we do know is that passengers and flight attendants overpowered this man, including reportedly two doctors, who repeatedly gave him injections of tranquilizers to calm this man down, who became quite violent. Two flight attendants, at least, injured in this melee. And one of them was apparently bitten.

Now the man described as 6-foot-4 tall. And according to an airport security official, in fact, the top airport security official here at Logan, he said that he did appear to be of Middle Eastern descent. This airport official said when he saw the man disembark, but that's the only information we've heard about whether or not this man was of Middle Eastern descent.

He was carrying a British passport with the very un-Middle Eastern sounding name of Richard Reid, a passport apparently issued about three weeks ago in Belgium. This Richard Reid boarded the plane, alone. He did carry some luggage on board, but he did not have any luggage -- he did not check any luggage.

Now this passenger, Richard Reid, being held here at Logan Airport at a police barracks nearby. He's in the custody of the FBI.

As for the passengers on flight 63, we don't have all the details. We do know at least some of them have now been questioned by the FBI and have made their way to Miami. We don't believe that all the passengers are yet in Miami. Back to you, Carol.

LIN: Oh, so Bill, what happened to those shoes then? Are they under investigation as well?

DELANEY: Well, you know, the shoes were taken out to a remote part of the airport. And they were disrupted in the technical language that's used. That means that they were rendered harmless.

Now we don't know whether this was explosive material or not. If it was C-4, Carol, that's very powerful stuff. That's what blew up the Khobar Towers in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. 19 American service personnel killed there in 1996. You know, C-4 is also something though that's not all that easy to set off. You have to have a special kind of electric blasting tap or a pretty good detonator. You can melt the detonator, we're told, with a match conceivably to set of the C-4. It's not clear that he had C-4 or that he was able to detonate it.

If he had been, though, it would've been quite a catastrophic event on American Airlines flight 63 from Paris down for Miami. Thank you, Carol.

LIN: Yes, well it seems like the system really worked, in terms of keeping those passengers secure. And hats off to those flight attendants, who were pretty brave to tackle this guy.

Bill, I'm going to pick your brain one last time here. How easy is C-4 to get?

DELANEY: C-4 is an explosive that's used by the military. Anything that's used by the military on a regular basis is something that you can get your hands on. It's not something that you're going to find easily enough, but certainly something can be obtained a lot more easily than other things.

And by the way, you mentioned the passengers. I should mention that the governor of Massachusetts, James Swift, made a point tonight to say that these passengers on this flight 63 are heroes. Carol?

LIN: You bet. All right. Well, we'll find out more about this man that they are detaining, as the FBI questions him. Thanks, Bill, for bringing us the latest there, live from Logan International Airport in Boston.

Now no one is suggesting any connection with today's events at this point, but Federal Aviation Administration officials last month issued a holiday season security warning that reads in part, "We are concerned that hijackers may attempt to smuggle disassembled weapons on board an airliner, by hiding weapon components in their shoes." Interesting coincidence there.

Now as we mentioned earlier, American Airlines flight 63 was en route from Paris to Miami, when it was diverted to Boston's Logan Airport. And some of the passengers got on another plane to finish their trip to Florida. That is where we go right now, live, to reporter Yusila Ramirez of affiliate WFOR. She is at Miami International Airport.

Yusila, what are those passengers, if you got a chance to talk to them, what did they tell you about what happened on board?

YUSILA RAMIREZ, WFOR CORRESPONDENT: Well, the passengers, we are still waiting for them to arrive, actually. We've been told several different possibilities, including the fact that they may stay overnight or they may be coming in on several different flights. But the latest we are hearing is that they may be leaving Boston at 9:30 tonight, on a special flight and arriving here at MIA.

Their flight was supposed to be here at 3:15, instead diverted to Boston. And it's been a very long day for those passengers. 185 passengers and 12 crew members. Of course, all but one, that suspect, expected to stay in Boston, but they are expected to arrive here.

We are standing by. And we've been trying to locate, possibly, family members who have come out here to wait for those passengers to arrive. But because it was diverted so early on in the day, they probably were sent back home, if not notified by phone call, you know, not to come to the airport until there is official word of that flight coming in with those passengers.

LIN: Probably a lot of worried family members there waiting for their loved ones to come home. I'm wondering, Yusila, can you describe the security situation at Miami's airport? That's a pretty big airport. And I was wondering if it was influenced by today's events?

RAMIREZ: Well, definitely we've seen the armed guards around the airport, who as -- September 11, they've been pretty visible. But today, we did see a lot more, but I don't think a lot of the passengers and people traveling, people here picking up their family members, had no idea what happened. So the mood among those passengers and the folks here was pretty much just shocking.

But they can't believe, after all the security that we've seen, especially here at MIA, and it's been a huge ordeal especially because of the, you know, the people traveling in and out of here. It's a huge amount, you know, on a daily basis. And they just can't believe that something like this could actually happen with all of that tight security, and wondering if that could actually happen here at MIA.

LIN: Yes, a lot of questions. A lot of people getting on planes this weekend. Thank you very much, Yusila Ramirez reporting live for us in Miami.

Well, while Americans wrestle with the threat of terrorism, we want to continue on with this story. We were telling you earlier that when the passengers and the flight attendants tackled this guy, a warning went to military officials, to dispatch a couple of fighter jets, F-15s, to intercept this American Airlines plane and divert it to Logan International Airport in Boston. And we want to go to the Pentagon right now.

CNN's Jeff Levine standing by there. Jeff, pretty quick action on the military's part?

JEFF LEVINE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, indeed, Carol. We understand that that airplane was intercepted just as it as entering U.S. air space. And in fact, two F-15 fighters were responsible for that action.

And if you were at Logan International Airport in Boston today, you would see a rather startling sight. The two F-15s were there following that action. They landed at Logan, after becoming involved in that incident.

It's overall, part of a very security effort that was put in place after the 9/11 attacks against the United States. We are told that there are some 100 fighter aircraft that are patrolling cities across the United States specifically. They are devoting their attention to the Northeast corridor, Washington, D.C. and New York City.

They are under aerial surveillance 24 hours a day.

And to give you an idea of how intense this surveillance is, there were some 90 intercepts of aircraft in the one month period following the 9/11 attacks. And if you compare that to the previous year, there were only seven. This indicates that the U.S. is in a very, very intense security mode. They are taking no risks, according to one Defense official. They want to make sure that if there is any threat at all, that they're responding appropriately quickly, and that the result that we got today, that was obtained today is the result that they want -- Carol.

LIN: Jeff, how does it work? There's a problem on the plane. Is it the pilot then notifies the military or are there people independently on the ground who are monitoring any unusual activity?

LEVINE: Carol, I would think that the first line of defense here is the pilot, the crew. They would notify the airline. The airline would notify the FAA. In fact, there has been a 24-hour hotline established between the FAA and military officials. So that if something like this does occur, it doesn't require that additional communications take place. In other words, the FAA and the Defense establishment know about it right away.

But I think, in answer to your question, yes, the crew has to respond. They respond quickly. And then, the response comes from the appropriate Defense officials, hopefully, all within a matter of minutes.

LIN: All right, well, thank goodness. That exactly appears what happened today. Thank you very much. Jeff Levine reporting live from the Pentagon for us.

And just quickly to recap this breaking news story today, it's an amazing story. It was an American Airlines flight 63. It left Paris. It's on its way to Miami, when all of a sudden at some point, one of the flight attendants smells sulfur burning in the air. She notices that a man is lighting a match and is about to set his shoes on fire and claims that his shoes are wired.

You're looking there at passengers at Boston Logan International Airport, people quite upset about witnessing this sort of thing on the plane. What happened next, according to witnesses, is that the flight attendants, as well as some of the passengers, tackled this man, to try to stop him from doing whatever it was that he was going to do next. A couple of doctors on board actually tried do sedate him three times. And then they strapped into the chair.

And in the meantime, the military was notified there was a problem on this flight. Two F-15 fighter jets were dispatched and escorted that plane back to Logan International Airport. The man you just saw there on the last part of the plane was the aviation official at Logan International Airport. It was he who said that there was in fact C-4 or some sort of explosive material in this shoe that this man was trying to set on fire. They managed to run it through an X-ray machine, and they saw wires, some sort of fuse that was coming out of the toe of the shoe, and some sort of substance, that according to him, was explosive materials.

They managed to disengage whatever this stuff was in the shoe. And now, those shoes are with an FBI lab. And they're investigating this man who apparently was carrying what appears to be a fake British passport.

As soon as we get more on this story, we'll bring it to you.




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