September 11, 2001 : Attack on America
Remarks of Attorney General John Ashcroft - Richard Reid Indictment Press Conference; January 16, 2002

Remarks of Attorney General John Ashcroft
Richard Reid Indictment Press Conference
January 16, 2002

In the four months since al Qaeda terrorists attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, we have called on the public three times to be alert to the possibility of imminent terrorist attacks.

First on October 11, then on October 29, and for the third time on December 3, we issued security alerts warning of possible, additional terrorist attacks on the United States or U.S. interests overseas. By issuing these alerts, we have asked Americans to balance a difficult new set of realities. We have asked citizens to assume a new responsibility -- to go about their lives with a new awareness of the danger of terrorism. We've asked law enforcement to carry new burdens and assume new responsibilities.

We have trusted the American people to act responsibly in the face of terrorist threats -- to use their good, common sense to protect not just themselves, but those around them. And on December 22, on a Paris-to-Miami flight thousands of feet above the Atlantic, our trust in the people's common sense in the face of terrorism was vindicated.

Press reports have recounted in vivid detail the events that transpired on American Airlines flight 63. Passengers and flight crew have described how Richard Colvin Reid attacked a flight attendant when Reid was confronted attempting to ignite what they described as a wire protruding from his shoe. Passengers described seeing a commotion, hearing cries for help from the flight attendants, and rushing to be of assistance. The press reported that one French man reached over the seat to restrain Reid's arms as he struggled; other passengers restrained his legs. Passengers were eventually able to remove Reid's shoe and restrain him using belts and whatever was available. One man on board, a doctor, sedated Reid. Another passenger held a fire extinguisher as a weapon while Reid was being restrained.

On flight 63, for a few minutes at least, every passenger was vigilant; every passenger was an air marshal. And as a result, the 197 people on board made it to the ground safely that day.

This morning, a federal grand jury in Massachusetts returned a nine-count indictment against Richard Colvin Reid. Reid is charged as an al Qaeda-trained terrorist who attempted to destroy American Airlines flight 63 with explosive devices concealed in his shoes.

I want personally to thank U.S Attorney Mike Sullivan, who is here with me today, for his outstanding work on this case.

After hearing evidence that Reid received training from al Qaeda in Afghanistan, the grand jury has charged him with the following crimes:

  • One count of the attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction.

  • One count of attempted homicide of U.S. nationals overseas.

  • One count of placing an explosive device on an aircraft.

  • One count of attempted murder of passengers on an aircraft.

  • Two counts of interfering with a flight crew.

  • One count of willfully attempting to set fire to and destroy an aircraft.

  • One count of using a destructive device during a crime of violence.

  • And finally, the indictment charges Reid with one count of a new anti-terrorism offense created with the passage of the USA PATRIOT Act: Attempted wrecking of a mass transportation vehicle.

    As was the case with the charges filed against John Walker Lindh yesterday, our ability to prosecute terrorists has been greatly enhanced by the USA PATRIOT Act. I want to take this opportunity once again to thank Congress for providing us with the tools we need to protect the health and safety of Americans. Today's indictment contains serious charges against Richard Reid. If convicted of these crimes, Reid faces up to five life sentences.

    Reid's indictment alerts us to a clear, unmistakable threat: that al Qaeda could attack the United States again. The lessons for Americans are undeniable: we must be prepared. We must be alert. We must be vigilant.

    Al Qaeda-trained terrorists may act on their own or as part of the terrorist network, but we must assume that they will act. But for the vigilance of the flight crew and the courage of the passengers on Flight 63, Richard Reid may have succeeded in what today's indictment charges was his ultimate goal: the destruction of Flight 63 and the 197 people on board. That this tragedy was averted stands as proof that terrorists -- even al Qaeda-trained terrorists -- are no match for alert and vigilant people roused to defend themselves and to defend their freedom.

    Thank you.

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