Shoe bomb suspect may have al Qaeda link
Sources: Bomb creator 'extraordinary professional'
By Sheila McVicar
PARIS, France (CNN) -- Suspected shoe bomber Richard Reid is a member of a previously unknown terrorist network that may have links to al Qaeda, according to European investigators and intelligence sources.
Reid is in U.S. custody for allegedly trying to ignite plastic explosives in his shoes aboard a U.S.-bound commercial flight last month. He told U.S. investigators he got the recipe for the shoe bomb off the Internet.
European investigators and intelligence sources said they do not believe Reid made the explosives himself and that the bomb-maker remains at large.
The investigators said they believe Reid was given the shoes containing the bombs only hours before he was scheduled to board an American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami.
Bomb maker described as 'extraordinary'
Other evidence has led investigators to conclude there is some kind of logistics base for the network in Europe where the explosives were manufactured.
One source described the unknown bomb maker as an "extraordinary professional."
One U.S. official also cited a possible connection between Reid and al Qaeda, the network run by Osama bin Laden.
"There is reason to believe Reid may have had links to al Qaeda," the U.S. official said.
But the government said it does not yet have enough information.
"I am not in a position to tell you today based on that investigation that we can formally and strictly tie him to that group (al Qaeda)," said Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge. "There are some signs certainly pointing in that direction, but I will let the FBI make the final determination on that."
An FBI analysis of the shoes showed the bombs were made of two explosives -- a military explosive called PETN and a homemade explosive called TATP. Experts said they have not previously seen that combination.
Reid, 28, a heavily traveled British citizen of Jamaican heritage, missed his original flight when airport security detained him to check him out. He was eventually cleared and caught American Airlines Flight 63 the next day, December 22.
U.S. authorities said that during the flight Reid tried to light his sneakers with a match. Flight attendants and passengers forcibly prevented him from doing so and the plane was diverted to Boston with a military escort.
Fluke that shoe bombs didn't explode
French police are urgently trying to retrace Reid's movement. A French anti-terrorism judge is so concerned he is now working the case full time.
At Reid's arraignment late last month in Boston, an FBI agent said TATP is a highly volatile, heat-and friction-sensitive chemical.
The agent told the court that if the shoe had exploded near the fuselage, it could have blown a hole in the aircraft. Reid was sitting in a window seat.
One source said it was a fluke the sneakers did not explode.
"The crew and passengers on the plane avoided a catastrophe," the source said. "The next time, where will the explosive be? In a backpack strap? In a shoulder pad of a suit?"
-- CNN National Security Correspondent David Ensor in Washington contributed to this report.
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