E-mail ties Richard Reid to Pakistan
January 19, 2002
COMPUTER EXPERTS were able to retrieve the data off hard drives from computers used by Reid, Europe 1 Radio and the newspaper La Provence reported Saturday.
Europe 1 reporter Frederic Helbert provided the greatest detail, telling NBC News that French sources said the e-mails so far showed that:
A few hours after Reid missed a Paris-Miami flight on Dec. 21, he sent e-mail to a Pakistani address from the business center of the Copthorne Hotel, where American Airlines had put him up after tight security prevented Reid from making the flight. In that e-mail he told the recipient of the difficulty of boarding and asks, “Should I go again?” An e-mail was sent back to Reid that said, “Yes, go again.”
Reid sent an email — a testament of sorts — to several mosques in England and Belgium. He sent a similar mail to his mother and claimed responsibility for the destruction of an airplane but did not say who he was working for.
He wrote that he was a “martyr for the Islamic cause” and asked his mother to convert to Islam.
ACCOUNTS IN EUROPE, PAKISTAN
Upon arriving in Paris, Reid created an e-mail address from a computer kiosk in a subway station in a largely Arab neighborhood in northern Paris called the Goutte d’Or (Drop of Gold), officials said. He also frequented two cybercafйs in Paris and one in Brussels.
European investigators have discovered Reid created e-mail boxes in other countries — two in Britain and three in Pakistan.
Reid sent messages throughout Europe, many to Belgium and numerous others to Pakistan, computer experts said after examining the hard drives.
FBI agents and a U.S. prosecutor arrived in Paris last Monday to work with French authorities investigating the e-mails, Helbert reported.
HOTMAIL, YAHOO LINKS
The U.S. team was expected to ask two e-mail hosts — Hotmail and Yahoo — for authorization to get more details about some of the addresses found on the hard drives, particularly that of the Pakistani.
NBC’s Robert Windrem, citing U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity, said intelligence services have long identified Yahoo and Hotmail as the al-Qaida terrorist network’s preferred means to send e-mail.
The benefits to al-Qaida are that such services can be accessed from any computer in the world with an Internet connection, can be encrypted if necessary, and accounts can be opened and closed quickly. Moreover, the services do not retain records of emails for a long period of time.
Helbert said French investigators still do not know where Reid stayed during the week he was in Paris before finally boarding the Paris-Miami flight on Dec. 22.
All Paris-area hotels have been checked, leading investigators to believe that he was lodged by someone privately.
Investigators also believe Reid had an accomplice with the ability to stabilize the explosive in his running shoe.
That explosive, TATP, is so volatile it could easily have exploded while he walked, Helbert cited investigators as saying. Moreover, TATP is effectively stabilized for only 48 hours before it reverts back to its volatile form.
Reid was subdued by flight crew and passengers when he allegedly was spotted trying to light a fuse on the shoes.
In a Boston courtroom Friday, Reid pleaded not guilty to a nine-count federal indictment charging him with trying to blow up the Paris-Miami flight as it was over the Atlantic Ocean.
He was indicted Wednesday on the new charges and accused of ties to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network. Initially held for interfering with a flight crew, Reid faces charges more closely tied to terrorism, including the attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction.
“Not guilty,” Reid answered softly when asked to enter a plea in the case.
One of Reid’s court-appointed attorneys said the indictment does not accuse Reid of acting for a terrorist group.
“We note that the indictment does not allege that any of the crimes charged were committed on behalf of or to further the cause of al-Qaida or any other terrorist organization,” Tamar Birckhead said in a statement. “We are aware of no basis for such an allegation.”
On Wednesday, Attorney General John Ashcroft said Reid “is being charged as an al-Qaida-trained terrorist” and could face up to five life sentences.
Ashcroft said the charges “alert us to a clear, unmistakable threat that al-Qaida could attack the United States again.”
The other charges include: attempted murder and homicide; placing an explosive device on an aircraft; interfering with a flight crew; attempted destruction of an aircraft; using a destructive device during a crime of violence; and attempted wrecking of a mass transportation vehicle.
The London-born Reid is being held in Plymouth, Mass. No bail has been set because Reid is considered a risk to the public and likely to flee if released. Reid could be moved to Alexandria, Va., to stand trial. A Justice Department spokesman has said the federal court there has expertise in terrorism matters and could provide better security.
AL-QAIDA TRAINING CITED
The indictment also alleges that “at various times ... Richard Colvin Reid received training from al-Qaida in Afghanistan.” It did not specify when or where inside Afghanistan Reid is alleged to have been trained.
The indictment came as the Wall Street Journal reported finding an alleged al-Qaida computer in Afghanistan that contains a travel itinerary very similar to that taken by Reid in the months before his arrest.
The itinerary is said to be that of an “Abdul Ra’uff” and a senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told NBC News that the intelligence community has “few doubts” that Ra’uff is Reid.
An Israeli official who spoke on condition of anonymity said it was possible Reid was gathering intelligence during those travels for large-scale attacks in Tel Aviv and other cities.
Investigators are seeking any links between Reid and al-Qaida operators. There have been reports that Reid spoke with Zacarias Moussaoui, the first man charged in the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
NBC News’ Nancy Ing, Pete Williams and Robert Windrem, MSNBC’s Jon Bonné and The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.