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31 Jan 2003 08:52
A US judge sentenced Briton Richard Reid—a self-proclaimed disciple of Osama bin Laden—to life imprisonment on Thursday for trying to blow up a trans-Atlantic flight with explosives hidden in his shoe.
Declaring himself an enemy of the United States, Reid (29) had pleaded guilty in October to trying to blow up the December 22, 2001, Paris-to-Miami American Airlines flight and murder the 197 people aboard.
US District Judge William Young also sentenced Reid to an additional 110 years to be served consecutively on various other charges related to the incident, effectively ruling out the chance of parole.
Prosecutors, who had argued for a formal sentence of life without parole, later said they were satisfied with the result. US Attorney General John Ashcroft welcomed the ruling.
“The sentence imposed on Richard Reid says to the world that terrorists cannot escape American justice.
In a statement to the court before he was sentenced, Reid, who has previously expressed regret at not taking part in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, showed no remorse.
“I hate the USA and I am with Allah,” he said.
Young however dismissed Reid’s claims to be a warrior in the army of Islam. “Today there was too much war talk here. You are a terrorist not a soldier in any war,” Young said. “You are not a warrior, you are a terrorist guilty of multiple murder attempts.”
The judge had earlier rejected a motion by Reid’s lawyers requesting the sentencing be postponed so they could have access to classified documents that could mitigate Reid’s actions.
Young said the documents had no significant bearing on the case. Reid had initially pleaded not guilty, but he changed his mind, saying he wanted to save his family from any negative repercussions a trial might bring.
His bombing attempt was thwarted when he was spotted by a quick-witted flight attendant while trying to ignite a small amount of explosives hidden in the hollowed-out heel of his shoes.
Investigators say Reid might have succeeded in blowing up American Airlines Flight 63 if he had used a cigarette lighter instead of matches, which gave off a strong and noticeable sulphur smell.
Passengers and crew members subdued Reid before he could detonate the explosives. The flight was diverted to Boston, where he was taken into custody.
The court heard testimony from crew members on why they believed Reid should be imprisoned for the rest of his natural life.
“I feel very lucky to stand in this court, because he truly wanted to ignite the plane, he had zero regard for all the passengers, including the children,” flight attendant Carole Nelson said.
An investigation established Reid had help in preparing the attempted strike, since the explosives in his shoes had a hair and fingerprint that were not his own. Police investigators learned Reid, a convert to Islam who grew up in south London, was in Pakistan and Afghanistan in late 2001 before returning to Europe. He was in Brussels for a week before arriving in France two weeks before the flight.
Twelve people, including a Muslim imam, or prayer leader, were questioned in France in the case, and some of them were charged with association aimed at preparing a terrorist attack.
In Britain, police found Reid attended the same London mosque as Frenchman Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person charged in connection with the September 11 terrorist strikes, which killed more than 3 000 people.
Bin Laden’s al-Qaeda group has claimed responsibility for the attacks. Moussaoui faces a possible death sentence in the United States on charges related to the attack.
Reid was born in southeast London, the son of an British mother and a Jamaican father who spent much of his life in jail. He dropped out of school and turned to street crime, building up a string of convictions and it was while in prison that he turned to Islam. - Sapa-AFP
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