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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Suspect Passenger Tackled On Plane

ReutersThe suspect being taken into custody.
BOSTON -- An American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami made an emergency landing in Boston after a man on board tried to ignite what were believed to be explosives hidden in his shoes, airport officials said.

The man was subdued by passengers and crew members, and two doctors on board sedated him with drugs from the plane's medical kit, the officials said.

The plane, a Boeing 767, was escorted to Boston's Logan International Airport by two F-15 fighter jets. All 185 passengers and 12 crew members on Flight 63 were escorted safely off the plane after it landed at 12:55 p.m. Saturday.

The man, who officials said is 28, was taken into custody by FBI agents.

He was traveling under the name of Richard Reid, and was using a falsified British passport that was issued in Belgium three weeks ago, said Thomas Kinton, interim executive director of the Massachusetts Port Authority, which runs the airport.

French police said Sunday that the man was a Sri Lankan national and identified him as Tariq Raja.

Kinton said at a news conference Saturday that the confrontation began when a flight attendant noticed "the smell of sulfur from a lit match." She approached the passenger in Row 29 "and then challenged him as to what he was doing," Kinton said. She also saw a wire protruding from the man's shoe.

When confronted, the man, who was 1.93 meters tall, became hostile and bit the flight attendant, who screamed, officials and passengers said. Passengers and crew members were able to overpower him and belt him into his seat.

One of the passengers who helped subdue the man was Eric Debry of France, in the row behind the man with his wife, Arlette, and two children, 13 and 9. After the flight attendant screamed, Debry said he reached out and pulled the man's arm back. He said one of the crew members threatened to spray the man with a fire extinguisher, and other people poured drinks on him. Debry said about 20 passengers handed over belts to tie him down.

Another passenger, Thierry Dugeon, 36, from France, said he was sitting in Row 39, 10 rows behind the man. Dugeon said he heard the flight attendant scream, "I need some help, I need some help."

He said he bounded up the aisle and by the time he got there, two other passengers had already jumped on the man. In all, about six passengers and crew members, all men, tackled the man. They used the belts, plastic packing strips, anything they had to tie him down in his seat, Dugeon said.

"Everyone knew what we needed to do," Dugeon said. "He was real powerful, but we were five or six. It's pure instinct because it's so fast." Then, one of two doctors injected him with a sedative, Dugeon said.

Dugeon said the man, who was light skinned with long, dark curly hair and looked as though he had not shaved, did not say much. His shoes were high-top basketball shoes that looked to be made of black suede, Dugeon said. The flight attendant indicated he had tried to light the tongue of his shoe.

The passengers and crew searched him and found the British passport. One asked him if was French or British, and he said he was Jamaican. They took turns guarding him for the rest of the flight.

After the incident, which one passenger said took place about three hours into the flight, all the passengers were very quiet, Dugeon said. The crew made announcements telling passengers not to worry if they saw military jets out the windows. The crew put on a movie for the passengers, a comedy, "Legally Blonde."

Kinton, crediting the passengers and crew for their role in the incident, said, "We obviously had actions on that aircraft that prevented something from occurring."

Two flight attendants were injured slightly, including the one bitten by the man, said a port authority spokeswoman, Laura White. That flight attendant was later treated at a hospital.

After the man was taken into custody, investigators X-rayed the shoe on board the plane and found what Kinton called "improvised explosives."

Kinton said he was told that the heel of the shoe appeared to have holes in it, wires that looked like detonation cord, and a substance consistent with the explosive C-4. He said he was told that if it was indeed explosive, it would have been enough to create significant damage.

The shoes were taken to a field and rendered harmless, Kinton said. They were then taken to a laboratory for further analysis.

Senator Richard Shelby, the ranking Republican on the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, said Sunday that preliminary FBI information indicated the man had had explosives in his shoes.

C-4 is a military plastic explosive, a whitish, puttylike substance that can be molded by hand, and can be detonated if burned. The explosive was used in the October 2000 bombing of the destroyer Cole in Yemen, killing 17 American sailors and wounding 39.

An FBI spokeswoman, Kimberly McAllister, said the man was being held for investigation of "interference with a flight crew," but had not been arrested. The man is scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday in federal court in Boston.

Kinton said the man was traveling alone and had not checked luggage. White said the man had not presented an identification other than the passport.

Shelby said U.S. authorities were trying to determine whether the man had acted alone or was connected to a terror network.

"The message here is as this unfolds that terrorists are going to hit us again, I've said that. Is it part of a widespread deal or was this guy acting alone, we don't know yet," Shelby said on CBS television. "What I believe is now, although we've made a lot of headway since Sept. 11 as far as air safety, we've got a long way to go."

The incident, at the height of the holiday travel season, follows a warning on Dec. 11 by the Federal Aviation Administration to airlines and airport security personnel to be wary of the possibility that terrorists might try to put weapons in their shoes. "The directive talked about the possibility of terrorists carrying out hijackings in the U.S. or Europe over the holidays and one of the things mentioned was a concern that hijackers could conceal weapons in their shoes," said a Bush administration official.

The official said the FAA planned to issue a new warning on Sunday that security inspectors should be especially careful about possible weapons smuggled in shoes.

News organizations across the country have noted cases where people in airports have been asked to remove their shoes and in some cases their socks for inspection after the Dec. 11 warning.

The Boston Globe reported that a port authority official said the man had tried to take the same flight on Friday but had been denied by airport personnel in Paris for unknown reasons.

French police on Sunday were investigating the report. They also wanted to know how he managed to get on board Saturday given the heightened security put in place after the Sept. 11.

An official with the French Border Police, which opened an investigation Sunday into the incident, said they learned of the man's Sri Lankan nationality and identity from sources in the United States. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, would not say whether the information came from U.S. law enforcement authorities, government aviation officials or American Airlines.

"For the moment, we do not know how this man got through," said another official for the French Border Police, which shares responsibility for security at all airports in France with the Interior Ministry. (NYT, AP, Reuters)