How a streetwise tearaway became a jihad fanatic

The Telegraph/October 5, 2002
By Richard Alleyne

When Richard Reid is sentenced in January for trying to blow up an airliner with a bomb in his shoe, it will mark the end of a remarkable journey from petty crook in London to international terrorist.

Just 10 years ago, Reid, now 29, was nothing more than a "streetwise" but impressionable Brixton boy with a string of convictions for muggings and car thefts.

But a chance meeting with Islamic extremists in jail and then at a local mosque turned him from an "amiable, happy-go-lucky" young man into a religious convert, with a convert's zeal.

Reid himself has always maintained that he worked alone, but everyone who knew him is adamant that this must be untrue. To them he was a follower with neither the intelligence nor the drive to carry out something so audacious alone. Most, like his father, are convinced that he was "brainwashed".

Of mixed race, Richard Colvin Reid was born at Farnborough Hospital in Bromley, south-east London, in the summer of 1973.

His father Robin, a Londoner of Jamaican roots, and his mother Lesley, the daughter of an accountant and magistrate from the North-East, had married a year before in Poplar, east London.

But at his birth his father was already absent from his life. In a pattern that was to be repeated for most of his formative life, Reid senior was in jail for car theft.

On the odd occasions when he was out, he spent little time with his family because for much of the Seventies and Eighties he was one of only two black Hell's Angels in Britain, running with the Nomads Chapter of the biker gang.

"My son didn't see his dad a lot of years because his dad was in prison a lot of the time," Mr Reid, now 51, said. "I have spent 18 years in total behind bars. That can't have helped can it? Every time he needed me I was nowhere to be found. I was locked up.

"With that kind of childhood, what sort of defence could he put up against lunatic religious fanatics leading him astray?"

Reid's parents separated when he was four and divorced when he was 11. Ostensibly educated at Church of England and Roman Catholic schools in south London - he hardly attended them - he spent his days stealing cars and money on the streets of Brixton.

Convicted on numerous occasions he had various spells in the Feltham Young Offender Institution in West London from as early as 14.

It was here that he was first introduced to the Islamic faith. He took to the religion with enthusiasm and when he was released continued his studies at the moderate Brixton Mosque, a place often used as a half way house for Muslims recently out of prison.

Abdul Haqq Baker, the chairman of the mosque, said that initially he wore fashionable Western clothes and was keen to learn.

"He was an amiable, happy-go-lucky individual, always wanting to get involved in things and helping," he said. "He was very keen to learn the basics of Islam. He was just a regular south-east London youngster. He was very streetwise."

But it seems he was already being groomed by extremists who used the mosque as a recruiting ground for their causes.

It is unlikely to be just coincidence that Zacarias Moussaoui, a Frenchman of Moroccan origin, charged in America with conspiracy over the September 11 attacks and suspected of being the "20th hijacker", also attended the mosque at the same time.

"By the time he [Reid] left he was clearly arguing for this fight with the non-Muslims and this warped understanding of jihad", Mr Baker said.

Reid, who had long lost contact with both parents, made various trips abroad to Pakistan and the Middle East. In Pakistan it is believed that he attended an al-Qa'eda training camp.

He has always claimed that he worked alone, but coded files found on one of the terrorist organisation's computers seized in Kabul provides evidence that disputes this.

The laptop refers to an agent named Abdul Ra'uff, whose movements mirror almost exactly those of Reid. It talks of a lengthy scouting mission by "brother Abdul" dated Aug 19, 2001 and said that he had recently visited the Netherlands, Israel, Egypt, Turkey and Pakistan, travelling on a British passport.

Intelligence reports show Reid visited the same countries in July 2001. Furthermore the computer files say that the agent received a new passport from the British consulate in Amsterdam after putting his old one through the washing machine. The Foreign office confirmed that Reid had been issued a passport on July 6.

In addition to scouting cities in Israel, and the United States, the al-Qa'eda reports also show he regularly crossed from Israel to Egypt at the Gaza Strip checkpoint. His British passport was described as perfect cover.

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