20 years ago today: The shoe bomber is foiled


Richard Reid’s shoes courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

(NewsNation Now) — The next time you nearly fall across the conveyor belt trying to take your shoes off so you can go through security at the airport, thank Richard Reid. It was on this day in 2001 that his attempt to set off a plastic explosive bomb in his shoes went awry and he was subdued by his fellow passengers.

The American Airlines flight, originally departing from Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris en route to Miami, was diverted to Boston’s Logan Airport while being escorted by U.S. fighter jets.

The diversion to Logan was a bizarre sort of completion of the circle, as the 9/11 hijackers had boarded the planes they turned into deadly weapons there a few months earlier. Reid was removed from the plane by federal agents and taken into custody.

At trial, the shoes were the main piece of evidence, as was Reid’s profession of being an independent agent of al-Qaida.

There was a bit of a Keystone Kops air to the entire bombing attempt. After being refused permission to board a flight the day before, Reid got on this one, and his fellow passengers reported a smell of something burning after the meal service. A flight attendant looking for the source of the smell found Reid sitting alone trying desperately to strike a match. She told him that smoking wasn’t allowed on board, and he promised to behave.

Shortly thereafter, the flight attendant found Reid hunched over his shoe, from which a fuse was protruding, with a lit match in his hand. However, his fiendish plan was foiled by sweaty feet: Perspiration from his feet kept the plastic explosive packed into his shoes from igniting.

After fighting off the flight attendant, Reid was overwhelmed by other flight attendants and passengers and held until the plane landed.

The 9/11 hijackings that took off from Boston’s Logan had been planned and professionally executed, sadly resulting in the deaths of thousands. The shoe bombing was put together by a single man who styled himself as an extremist but had little to no expertise in the operation he was attempting to pull off.

However, both events have changed air travel in the U.S. and around the world forever. Had Reid been able to set off his shoe bomb, he would have blown a sizable hole in the plane, according to Ian Sample writing in The Guardian at the time. This would no doubt have brought down the plane.

So go ahead and grumble the next time you have to doff your shoes going through security, but at the same time feel thankful that the event behind you having to do so didn’t come out any worse than it did.

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