Today in History: The Shoe Bomber Attempts to Blow Up an Airplane With His Shoes

Today in History: The Shoe Bomber Attempts to Blow Up an Airplane With His Shoes

By M.C. Millman

Richard Reid, infamously known as the Shoe Bomber after taking American Airlines Flight 63 to Miami from Paris; en route, Reid attempted to blow up the plastic explosives he had hidden in his black hightops.

The Shoe Bomber struck on December 22, 2001. This was three months after 9/11. Reid, a 28-year-old British citizen, was an Al Qaeda member who tried to buy a ticket the day before. His cash purchase, his agitated state, and the absence of luggage triggered a security check at the airport, and he missed the flight.

Undeterred, he tried again the next day and was successful at boarding the plane. 

Ninety minutes later, a flight attendant noticed the smell of sulfur. She insisted Reid put out the match, but he lit another one as he worked to set fire to the tongues of his shoes while attempting to light the fuse connected to the homemade explosives in his shoes. Once again, the flight attendant intervened. This time, Reid attacked her, knocking her down and biting another attendant.

Fellow crew members and passengers restrained Reid, who was sedated by a doctor on board and strapped down with belts. The plane, which carried nearly 200 passengers, was diverted to Boston’s Logan International Airport, where Reid was taken into custody.

Reid had previously served jail time for petty thefts and had converted to Islam and trained at Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan.

The FBI later reported the bomb had 10 ounces of explosives, which would have caused the plane to crash after blowing a hole into the plane’s fuselage had Reid been successful in getting the fuse to light.

Reid pled guilty to eight charges. While he was being tried, Reid laughed at prosecutors and announced he didn't recognize the U.S. criminal justice system before pleading guilty on Oct. 4, 2002 after stating, "I'm an enemy of your country, and I don't care."

He was sentenced to life in federal prison without parole on January 31, 2003, and was fined two million dollars.  The fifty-year-old is presently serving his life prison sentence at the U.S. Penitentiary in Florence, Colorado.

Despite his attitude and life sentence, Ried tried appealing his case in 2021 when he wrote to a federal court clerk asking about the possibility of his sentence being reduced. The reply was that since he was almost 20 years past the statute of limitations for making such a request, it could not be granted.

The incident caused TSA to change its protocol in 2006 to require passengers to remove their shoes for screening while passing through airport security.  

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