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BOSTON (AP) -- Richard Reid, the self-described member of al-Qaida, lashed out at the U.S. government Thursday before he was sentenced to life in prison for trying to blow up a trans-Atlantic jetliner with explosives hidden in his shoes.
Reid, a 29-year-old British citizen who converted to Islam eight years ago, angrily denounced American foreign policy against Islamic countries.
"Your government has sponsored the torture of Muslims in Iraq, and Turkey, and Jordan and Syria with their money and weapons," he said. He then told the judge, "it's in your hands."
Reid had faced 60 years to life in prison for trying to down the American Airlines flight bound from Paris to Miami a little more than a year ago. Prosecutors said there was enough plastic explosives in his shoes to blow a hole in the fuselage and kill all 197 people aboard.
Passengers and crew members overpowered Reid, using seat belts and their own belts to strap him to his seat. Two doctors who were passengers injected him with sedatives, and the flight was diverted to Boston.
When Reid pleaded guilty last October, he said he was a member of al-Qaida, pledged his support to terrorist leader Osama bin Laden and declared himself an enemy of the United States.
"Basically I got on the plane with a bomb. Basically I tried to ignite it. Basically, yeah, I intended to damage the plane," Reid said that day with a laugh.
But defense lawyers said this week that he did not try to blow up the plane to wage war against America, but to defend Islam from attacks by the United States.
"He well knew that he would cause untold pain and grief even if only a few people were killed, but he says that this was outweighed in his mind by his firm belief ... that this country in recent years has caused the deaths of millions of Muslims," his lawyers wrote.
Reid's lawyers say Reid credits his religion with saving him from a life of drug use and despair. They describe a troubled childhood and young adulthood, when Reid was plagued by poverty, feelings of uselessness, racism and crime. Reid is the son of a British mother and a Jamaican father.
But in arguing for a life sentence, prosecutors earlier this month submitted a videotaped demonstration of what Reid might have accomplished, showing a fiery explosion causing massive damage aboard a wide-bodied jet.
Reid had tried furiously to light a match to his shoes but he was unable to ignite the fuse. Authorities have speculated Reid's shoes may have been too moist from sweat.
Three flight attendants struggled with Reid after they smelled sulfur from the matches. Attendant Hermis Moutardier told authorities Reid put a lit match in his mouth when she confronted him, then later tried to touch another match to the tongue of his sneaker.
Moutardier said she tried to grab the shoe, but Reid pushed her to the floor and she screamed for help. Attendant Carole Nelson said 75 to 100 passengers jumped up from their seats and headed for Reid when they saw him struggling with flight attendants.
"He was like a wild animal," Nelson testified last June. On Thursday, Nelson pleaded with the judge for a life sentence.
"I believe that Richard Reid was on a mission of evil, a mission of destruction and a mission of murder," she said. "Richard Reid put all of us on this flight under great stress and trauma."
Federal authorities had been preparing for a high-security trial. But Reid stunned prosecutors when he said he wanted to plead guilty to spare his family the pain and publicity a trial would bring.
In their sentencing memorandum, prosecutors called Reid "a committed terrorist who will remain so until his dying days."
"By his own words, Reid refuses to apologize for attempting to kill 200 people," U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan wrote. "Perhaps even more appalling, he blames the American people for the horrendous attacks and casualties caused by the al-Qaida terrorism organization to which he claims allegiance.
The FBI believes Reid had help making the bomb from "an al-Qaida bomb maker," and authorities have said they found unidentified hair and a palm print on the explosives.
Reid was sentenced on eight charges: attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction, attempted homicide, placing an explosive device on an aircraft; attempted murder, two counts of interference with flight crew members and attendants, attempted destruction of aircraft, and using a destructive device during a crime of violence.
A ninth charge, attempted wrecking of a mass transportation vehicle, a charge filed under the new USA Patriot Act, was dismissed last summer.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)