Shoe bomber was tormented by childhood race taunts, say lawyers
NOEL YOUNG IN BOSTON
Friday, January 31, 2003
THE shoe-bomber Richard Reid was tormented by racism and the subject of
attacks by neo-Nazi thugs as a youngster, his defence team has claimed.
Reid, 29, who has admitted trying to bring down a US airliner with 197
people on board, was regularly assaulted and ran home from his London
school in terror, his lawyers said in a 15-page statement issued prior to
They describe Reid - born to an English mother and Jamaican father who
separated when he was two - as a modest, responsive and respectful man,
far-removed from his public image as an al-Qaeda fanatic driven by hate.
His mother, a librarian, visited him in prison at Plymouth, Massachusetts
Reid admitted eight charges involving the attempted destruction of
American Airlines Flight 63 in December 2001 on a flight from Paris to
Miami. He was arrested when the plane diverted to Boston and has been
told he faces at least 60 years in jail. A memorandum sent to the judge
by Assistant US Attorney Gerard Leone said Reid would remain a committed
enemy, capable of attacking US interests as long as he lives. He added:
"Life imprisonment is the only sentence which can ensure he will never
again act on his distorted and fanatic views to endanger the lives of
In his statement, his defence lawyer Owen Walker, whose office is funded
by the US government, paints a picture of a youngster from a broken home
who grew up in a tense racist atmosphere. Reid attended the Thomas Tallis
School in London from the age of 11, but his attendance fell from age 14.
"Racism was particularly virulent at the time," said Mr Walker. The
school was bordered on one side by a council estate, Kidbrooke, where
there were a number of neo-Nazi sympathisers. It is only a short distance
from where Stephen Lawrence was later murdered by a white racist gang.
Immigrant and black students at the school were the target of repeated
acts of racist violence by National Front supporters. Students including
Reid were regularly attacked.
At the age of 12, Reid began to read about black history and the nation
of Islam. Two years later, he took cannabis and later tried LSD and
occasionally cocaine. He drank, heavily and became involved in
spray-painting graffiti on walls, buses and London Underground trains.
He lived in a haze of drugs and alcohol, but wanted to change his ways
and he thought religion might be the answer. He rejected the Black Muslim
movement as it denigrated white people. He studied, but could not accept,
Christianity, believing the divinity of Jesus was implausible. While
living in a hostel, a friend was wrongly accused of handbag snatching.
Reid owned up and was jailed for five years. In prison, he read the
autobiography of Malcolm X, the black civil rights activist and in 1993
decided to become a Muslim. He learned Arabic to read the original texts.
Reid embraced Islam, especially the message of the need to face oneís
misdeeds and overcome them though prayer and penance. He put drugs behind
Reid considered getting married, but rejected the idea as he believed
children brought up in Europe would end up on the same path from which he
had escaped. He finally left Britain for Pakistan and Afghanistan with
his savings from his job as a kitchen worker.
He had admitted being a member of al-Qaeda, but claimed his original
intention was not to become involved in terrorism. He said he thought the
Taleban had brought peace out of pandemonium and his plans for his crime
crystallised after two years in bomb-torn Afghanistan.
Reid knew that if the bomb in his hiking boots had gone off, it could
have caused the plane to break apart, killing all 197 people on board.
He pleaded guilty because he did not want his name and picture to
continue being spread across the world, to save his family further misery
and because, he claimed, he did not want to give the US government the
opportunity to portray him falsely. Reidís infamy seems genuinely to
repel him, his lawyers said.
The statement said he took no pleasure in what he tried to do on Flight
63, and did not regard himself as particularly brave or immune to
physical pain. He knew of the untold pain and grief his actions could
cause, but felt this was outweighed by his feeling that the US had caused
the death of millions of Muslims.
He did not plan the bombing for glory or out of hatred, but to prevent
the destruction of the religion that saved him. The lawyers said that
without diminishing the enormity of his offence, US law demands that he
be treated as an individual and that his background, character and
motives must be considered.
After his sentencing, Reid, currently held in maximum security at Walpole
prison near Boston, is to be transferred to a federal penitentiary in
Colorado which houses other terrorists.