Cautious U.S. investigators say they have no evidence would-be shoe bomber Richard Reid is a well-trained al-Qaeda operative rather than just a flaky loner with a fondness for radical Islamic sayings. French Justice officials, however, are beginning to think differently. "There's simply no way this kind of loser could have planned and carried this out on his own," an official told TIME last week, referring to Reid's failed attempt to ignite explosives in his sneakers while flying from Paris to Miami last month. Reid, 28, reportedly told the FBI he found the explosives he used on the Internet and bought them in Amsterdam. That story, the French official said, "wouldn't stand up if you nailed it to the ground." Not only are the explosives hard to come by, but their placement in a shoe and the sensitive detonation system required some expertise. Another sign Reid had help is that the sporadically employed ex-con somehow managed to pay cash for plane tickets and hotel rooms during extensive travels throughout Europe and the Middle East. Finally, Reid's "losing" his passport after spending a summer visiting Turkey, Israel and Egypt is classic al-Qaeda strategy, allowing him to avoid the suspicion a traveler through terrorist hot spots might draw. Rather than being a lone wolf, Reid, the French official said, is precisely the kind of guy terrorist groups seek. "You don't find people that crazy on every corner." Reid is currently awaiting indictment in Boston.
--By Rebecca Winters. Reported by Bruce Crumley/Paris