The suspect, listed in court papers as Richard C. Reid, was charged with intimidation or assault of a flight crew causing interference with their duties. The 28-year-old Reid faces a maximum 20 years in federal prison if convicted on that charge. The FBI told the Associated Press further charges are likely.
American Airlines Fight 63, with 185 passengers and 12 crew members on board, landed two hours after the suspect allegedly tried to light a fuse protruding from his shoe, American Airlines spokesman Al Becker said.
Reid was subdued by passengers and crewmembers while two F-15 fighter jets escorted the Boeing 767 jetliner to Boston’s Logan Airport. The plane was originally bound for Miami.
Police, fire fighters and a bomb squad were waiting for the airliner when it arrived. Reid was taken into FBI custody and his shoes were taken to a FBI lab.
The FBI said explosives were detected in preliminary tests on the suspect’s shoes.
Speaking on a Sunday morning talk show, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Alabama), senior Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he was briefed by the FBI and the government is taking the incident ” very, very seriously.”
“From what I’ve observed, this man was trying to blow himself up, blow the plane up. Is this part of a widespread deal or is this guy acting alone? We don’t know yet… What I believe is now, although we’ve made a lot of headway since September 11 as far as air safety, we’ve got a long way to go.”
A mid-air struggle
The suspect was identified by French police as Tariq Raja, a 28-year-old Sri Lankan national. French officials said the man boarded the flight using a British passport under the name Richard Colvin Reid. The passport was reportedly issued in Belgium three weeks ago.
Passengers described a dramatic fight which ended with the suspect tied to a seat with about 20 leather belts taken off during the skirmish. The struggle began when a flight attendant confronted the suspect for lighting a match. He bit her hand when she tried to intervene.
At one point, two doctors used the airplane’s onboard medical kit to sedate the suspect, and the man’s shoe was removed, authorities said.
Passenger Eric Debry, 42, of Paris, told the Associated Press he reached over the seat and pulled the suspect’s arms back. “I jumped on his shoulder. Two other guys came and took his legs,” Debry said.
“I was there in five seconds, and there were already two or three guys on him. It was like everybody knew what they needed to do,” said passenger Thierry Dugeon, 36, of Paris.
Philippe Acas, 39, of St. Quentin Enyvelines, France, said the passengers also found two audio tapes on the suspect and turned them over to the pilot.
Airport officials described the suspect’s makeshift device as possibly containing C-4, a military plastic explosive that can be molded into different shapes.
“They X-rayed the shoe and found that in the heel, there were holes drilled, and there looked to be a detonator wire, and the substances consistent with (the explosive) C-4,” said Massachusetts Port Authority spokeswoman Laura White.
C-4 was used in the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen, which killed 17 U.S. sailors.
The government and airlines have already taken steps to tighten security aboard planes since suicide hijackers crashed planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, including more intensive baggage screening and random passenger searches.