A failed restaurant bombing in England last week has
raised concerns among U.S. and European counterterrorism
officials that Al Qaeda and other radical Islamic groups
are recruiting mentally disabled people to carry
out suicide attacks.
Authorities in Britain have mounted an intensive investigation into how and why a 22-year-old mentally handicapped man, Nicky Reilly, built a nail bomb and then attempted to set it off last Thursday. The bomb, which was intended to detonate at lunchtime in a crowded restaurant in Exeter, a county seat in southwest England, apparently misfired, and Reilly was the only one injured in the partial explosion. According to British news reports, he suffered minor eye injuries and burns to his face. Earlier this week, he was released from the hospital and transferred to the custody of local police, who are now expected to question him with the help of Scotland Yard's antiterrorist division.
According to British news reports, shortly before leaving his home in Plymouth, England, on his bombing mission, Reilly allegedly received a text message on his cell phone that encouraged him to proceed with the attack. Following the failed bombing, at least two men were picked up by police in connection with the investigation, but their status is unclear.
British media quoted police officials saying they believed that Reilly had been targeted for recruitment as a suicide bomber by unidentified radical elements because of his mental handicap. According to a story in London's Observer, Reilly, a large, bearlike man who allegedly has the mental capacity of a 10-year-old, converted to Islam several years ago. The story reported that he recently changed his name and began to express extremist views, condemning his family as "infidels." According to the Observer and other U.K. press reports, due to his Muslim contacts, Reilly was at least vaguely known to Britain's domestic counterintelligence and antiterrorism agency, M.I.5. But before last week's incident, he was not regarded as dangerous and therefore had not been subjected to close monitoring by police or intelligence officers.