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Defendant in underwear bomb case has outburst in court

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian who was allegedly inspired by Anwar Awlaki, a radical killed in a U.S. strike, yells out 'Anwar is alive!' as jury selection begins.

October 04, 2011|Richard A. Serrano, Washington Bureau
  • A sketch shows Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in a courtroom in Detroit, where jury selection has begun. Abdulmutallab is accused of hiding explosives in his underwear in a failed attempt to bring down a U.S. plane in 2009.
A sketch shows Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in a courtroom in Detroit, where… (Jerry Lemenu, Associated…)

Reporting from Washington — On Christmas Day 2009, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab flew into Detroit allegedly trying to detonate a bomb in his underwear in what authorities said was a terrorist mission inspired by Anwar Awlaki, a U.S.-born Muslim radical killed last week in a U.S. missile strike.

On Tuesday, as jury selection began in his federal trial, Abdulmutallab shouted in court, "Anwar is alive!"

Abdulmutallab, 24, is the latest foreign radical to be tried in a U.S. courtroom under American laws they reject. Zacarias Moussaoui, an associate of the Sept. 11 plotters, bragged on the witness stand in Alexandria, Va., of his desire to kill Americans. Shoe bomber Richard Reid in Boston threatened the destruction of the United States. Both were given life in prison — the same fate that could await Abdulmutallab.

He told U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds in Detroit that he wanted to give his own opening and closing statements, possibly as early as next week. When he appeared in court Tuesday in a much-too-large prison T-shirt, the judge suggested he change. He asked to wear a Yemeni robe with a traditional belt and dagger. She allowed a shirt with a collar.

Abdulmutallab is a Nigerian with alleged ties to Al Qaeda in Yemen. He flew to Detroit on Dec. 25, 2009, and allegedly tried to ignite a packet of PETN, a highly flammable explosive. Instead he set his lap on fire as the Northwest Airlines flight descended toward Detroit, authorities said. He pleaded not guilty to eight offenses, including conspiring to commit an act of terrorism.

His arrest set off an angry call by congressional Republicans to have Abdulmutallab tried in a military tribunal at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. They criticized the Justice Department for allowing FBI agents to give Abdulmutallab warnings about his legal rights after his arrest. He stopped talking after agents read him his Miranda rights to remain silent and have a lawyer.

Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, then the leading Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, argued again Tuesday that the Obama administration squandered an opportunity to learn more about Al Qaeda.

"Abdulmutallab is a war criminal, not a civilian," he said. "It is wrong to provide him with the rights and privileges afforded in a civilian trial."

The jury probably will see a video of a government bomb expert detonating the device to demonstrate its firepower. Flight 253 carried nearly 300 people, and prosecutors contend that Abdulmutallab could have brought down the plane. They also said he hid a piece of paper in his shoe with instructions for sending secret messages. They said it showed Abdulmutallab knew how to communicate with Al Qaeda.

Officials first learned of the suspect through his father, a wealthy Nigerian banker who told U.S. authorities abroad that the youngest of his 16 children had embraced dangerous extremist views. But Abdulmutallab boarded the plane. Popping noises and smoke alerted the crew. A flight attendant asked him what he was holding.

"Explosive device," he said, according to authorities.

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