FBI agents have launched an exhaustive search for the terrorists suspected of training the alleged suicide bomber Richard Reid for his attempt to blow up a US-bound flight.
The bureau believes that Mr Reid, 28, a petty criminal from Brixton with more than 16 theft, robbery and assault convictions, was trained and financed by terrorists linked to Osama bin Laden during visits he made to the Middle East, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Muslim worshippers in Brixton have told The Independent on Sunday that Mr Reid was well known locally to have attended al-Qa'ida training camps in Afghanistan before 11 September. Intelligence agencies are also investigating the possibility that he may have had an accomplice in Paris during his failed attempt to board a US flight on 21 December, the 13th anniversary of the Lockerbie bombing, and his successful boarding of American Airlines Flight 63 to Miami the next day.
He appeared in a Boston court on Friday charged with assaulting the flight crew, but the FBI are expected to press far more serious charges. The 10oz (280g) of explosives allegedly packed into his training shoes could have blown a hole in the fuselage, with catastrophic results.
The intelligence agencies believe that Mr Reid, who converted to Islam at Feltham young offenders jail in the early 1990s, was used by his accomplices either to test airline security or to keep up pressure on Western security agencies. One source said it was beyond credibility that he could have paid for and planned the operation alone.
In a parallel inquiry, MI5 and police in Britain are also investigating "credible evidence" that up to 37 British Muslims were given religious instruction and warfare training at al-Qa'ida camps in Afghanistan.
This figure, drawn from al-Qa'ida documents uncovered in Kandahar, is lower than some estimates that up to 200 Britons travelled to Afghanistan. The names of only four men – from Leeds, Hounslow in London and Bradford – have so far been released.
Mr Reid's lawyers insist the FBI has no evidence to link him, but intelligence agencies are focusing on claims by captured al-Qa'ida fighters that they recognised Mr Reid, a tall, shambling man of English and Jamaican parentage. The FBI claims he is associated with an alleged al-Qa'ida member, Zacarias Moussauoi, a French Moroccan who also lived in Brixton, and several radical clerics in London including Abu Qatada, who is accused of being Mr bin Laden's "key lieutenant" in western Europe.
Mr Moussauoi – who has been charged with being the "20th member" of the cells who attacked the World Trade Centre and Pentagon – is believed to have been at Afghan training camps with Mr Reid.
Investigators in the US, Europe and Israel are unravelling Mr Reid's journeys since he left London in 1998, which included a three-week stay in Israel and the Palestinian territories, visits by air and rail to Turkey, Egypt, Pakistan, Amsterdam, Brussels and then Paris.
Despite only having casual work at building sites and restaurants, he paid cash for his $1,800 (£1,240) flight to Miami via Antigua, stayed inhotels across Europe and claims to have paid $1,500 in Amsterdam for the explosives he used.Reuse content