The Hypnotic Foot Grenade

The Strange Case of the Loaded Shoe

Passengers have learned to accept the unorthodox on airliners nowadays, from sky marshals idly twiddling with their Glock semi automatic pistols, to bottles of free champagne designed to restore your good humor if the sky marshal accidentally squeezes the trigger and shoots you instead of a hijacker. But hey, you asked for it really didn’t you? Slashing away at your steak on an aircraft with a plastic knife, is nowadays grounds for lawful homicide.

But what if you decide to change your routine for a while, and do something unexpected though perfectly legal. Say, for example, you decide to light a sulfur-based match and wave it around near your own shoe. Remember, lighting a match on an airliner is perfectly legal until the precise point at which the flame comes into contact with a banned and lethal (sic) Lucky Strike or Marlboro cigarette. What then? Will the sky marshal shoot you full of holes on mere suspicion of random guilt, or will you simply be treated like any other bored and eccentric passenger on the flight?

Recent events on American Airlines Flight 63 from Paris to Miami indicate that if you try any such thing, you will be beaten to the floor by a bunch of furious passengers, tied to a seat in row 27, then be heavily “sedated” by two doctors who just happen to be on the same American Airlines flight. This is exactly what happened to a man on board Flight 63, despite the fact he did not suddenly shout: “I have a bomb and you’re all going to die!” In fact the man did not say anything until long after he was wrestled to the floor, whereupon he apparently muttered, “You’ll see. Just you wait and see.” Despite the FBI trying to attach all kinds of sinister implications to this statement, a more likely explanation is that the man was probably referring to the legal suit he intended to take out against the barbarians who suddenly mishandled him.

The man, identified far too quickly by the FBI as Richard Colvin Reid a.k.a. Tariq Rajah a.k.a. Abdel Rahim, boarded Flight 63 quietly enough at Paris Charles de Gaulle, took his seat and later ate his in-flight meal. Then Richard (let’s call him Richard for now), lit his sulfur-based match and the sky suddenly fell on his head. Why? From the passenger viewpoint there was absolutely no evidence that Richard was a potential “suicide bomber”, nor any visible evidence that he was armed with anything more dangerous than a sulfur-based match.

Ask yourself a simple question here. Would you as a normal passenger on a normal airliner recognise a covert terrorist weapon concealed in someone’s shoe, then raise the alarm? Of course not. Most airline passengers are not anti-terrorist specialists and would have no idea what they were looking at. Perhaps the man had some chewing gum stuck to the sole of his shoe? Few travellers watching the free in-flight movie would take it any further than that.

We know from his fellow passengers that Richard said nothing at all, which means that in order to generate the required and resulting extreme level of activity and panic, someone else sitting near him must have quietly told the cabin crew that Richard had a bomb. There is no other possible explanation. The next question is whether or not Richard actually knew he had a bomb in his shoe, and whether or not the alleged bomb was actually armed.

Remember, all we know for certain at this stage is that Richard allegedly had a bomb in his shoe, and the FBI has stated that the bomb in question was an “improvised” device consisting of a combination of det cord and C-4 grade plastic explosive, where the det cord was the “fuze” and the C-4 the “main charge”. But how could the FBI have possibly known this so quickly? Det cord looks very much like the white plastic washing line you hang in your garden, and C-4 plastic explosive looks and smells very similar to the less powerful C-3 and Semtex varieties. To be sure of the materials, a full chemical analysis would be required, or the FBI must have known the exact chemical composition of the materials in advance of the incident.

The most critical point here is that neither Richard nor his assumed minder had a detonator cap. Thus for the following reasons, there was less than a one-percent chance of the alleged bomb exploding. As already stated, det cord (known to most as “Cordex”), looks like white plastic washing line with a black core. Though a high explosive in its own right, Cordex needs a detonator to initiate an explosion. If you light the end of a piece of Cordex with a match it will start to melt, and eventually drip all over the floor. A welding torch might have more disastrous results, so please do NOT try this at home!

The C-4 plastic explosive, known intimately to everyone who has ever watched a Steven Segal movie, is one of the most overrated explosives of our time. Sure, it is far more powerful than C-3, and sure, only limited stocks are allowed to be kept at individual US military bases, but it does not possess the magical powers sometimes attributed to it by filmmakers. For example, 334 grams of its Czech equivalent “Semtex H”, packed in a Toshiba radio, is supposed to have destroyed Pan American 103 at Lockerbie in 1988. Rest assured this is impossible

The primary reason C-4 is so prized is because it is easy to shape and relatively hard to set off by accident. C-4′s main ingredient is RDX, which is also used in fireworks. The puttylike substance can be easily molded by hand. Its shape can dictate the force and direction of its blast. It is relatively insensitive to impact, friction or fire.

Could simple Richard with the sulfur match have located and acquired the Cordex and C-4 unaided? Doubtful, unless he had some very useful contacts, especially for the C-4. And remember that any expert setting the device up for Richard in advance, would certainly have included a proper detonator and discreet trigger. Believe me, those with direct access to C-4 know how to make bombs that work.

Media reports that Richard was travelling on a “forged” passport are completely untrue and deliberately misleading. Our pretend “suicide bomber” was travelling on a valid British passport in the name of Richard Colvin Reid, issued on 7 December 2001 by the British Embassy in Brussels, Belgium.

The British are very fussy about issuing passports, and normally require reams of supportive paperwork, signed photographs and so on, proving the applicant is who he claims to be. True it is possible to obtain even a British passport by deception, but it is a job requiring considerable expertise and access. As with the “designer” high explosives in the dummy bomb that could not possible have been detonated on the aircraft, this attention to detail points towards the direct involvement of a person or persons who knew exactly what they were doing.

With the hard evidence available to date, it is perfectly reasonable to conclude that the entire incident on Flight 63 was set up as a psychological reinforcer, designed to re-sensitize Americans and others to air travel, especially over the Christmas period and in the run-up to the Winter Olympic Games. This conclusion is supported by the choice of an American Airlines Boeing 767, one of which also ripped through the Trade Center in New York. After this, who would travel “American” or to “America”?

If this is the case then repeat incidents, lethal and non-lethal but always different, will take place during the next few months. The American Economy is already on its way down to rock bottom, a process that can only be accelerated by incidents such as these.

Richard Reid, the alleged 'shoe bomber', in a police ID photo.