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Would-be bomber of jetliner gets life sentence

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab of Nigeria hid a bomb in his underwear in hopes of blowing up a Detroit-bound plane on Christmas Day 2009.

February 16, 2012|By Brian Bennett, Washington Bureau
  • Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in 2009, soon after he attempted to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner with a bomb concealed in his underwear.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in 2009, soon after he attempted to blow up a Detroit-bound… (U.S. Marshals Service )

Reporting from Washington — The Nigerian man who tried to detonate explosives hidden in his underwear aboard a Detroit-bound jetliner on Christmas Day 2009 has been sentenced to life in prison.

Speaking briefly in U.S. District Court in Detroit on Thursday, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the 25-year-old son of a wealthy Nigerian banker, called his sentencing "a day of victory" and said he was "proud to kill in the name of God," according to wire service reports.

A criminologist who analyzed the transcripts of the FBI interrogation of Abdulmutallab wrote in a report submitted to the judge that the would-be bomber was unrepentant.

"There is a high probability that given the opportunity, he would try once again to commit an act of martyrdom," wrote Simon Perry, a criminologist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem who completed a psychological profile of Abdulmutallab that was submitted to the court by the prosecution.

"Today's sentence once again underscores the effectiveness of the criminal justice system in both incapacitating terrorists and gathering valuable intelligence from them," U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. said in a statement.

Abdulmutallab brought his prosecution to an abrupt halt in October when he pleaded guilty on the second day of the trial to eight counts, including conspiracy to commit an act of terrorism and the attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction.

In 2009, Abdulmutallab sought out the help of American-born cleric Anwar Awlaki in Yemen and stayed at Awlaki's home there for three days. Awlaki and operatives from the group Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula purportedly helped Abdulmutallab assemble the bomb he wore on a flight to Amsterdam and then on Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines Flight 253.

Awlaki was killed in a missile strike in Yemen in September. It is not known whether the bomb maker, Ibrahim Hassan Asiri, is still alive.

Passengers and crew subdued Abdulmutallab when the bomb failed to detonate and Abdulmutallab's pants caught fire.

Abdulmutallab's father had told the CIA that he was concerned his son might launch an attack, but that information was never checked against Abdulmutallab's visa when he boarded the flight in Amsterdam.

Alain K. Ghonda, a 40-year-old consultant from Silver Spring, Md., remembers seeing Abdulmutallab's pants catch fire as he attempted to blow a hole in the side of the plane. At that moment, Ghonda said, he thought about his wife and children.

"Life in prison is right, so he can't harm more people," Ghonda said.

brian.bennett@latimes.com

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