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US court to pick jury in jet-bombing bid case
Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, accused of trying to blow up aircraft in 2009, to serve as his own defence.
Last Modified: 04 Oct 2011 10:44
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab allegedly attempted to detonate chemicals in his underwear [AFP]

Jury selection is set to begin in the trial of a Nigerian man charged with trying to detonate a bomb in his underwear on Christmas Day 2009 as an international airliner with 290 people aboard approached Detroit.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab has an attorney assisting him but he is acting as his own lawyer, according to the news agencies. He will probably interview prospective jurors on Tuesday in Detroit federal court.

The 24-year-old is charged with trying to destroy Northwest Airlines Flight 253 from Amsterdam. The bomb caused smoke and fire but did not explode.

Prosecutors have a confession, witnesses and a video of Abdulmutallab explaining his suicide mission for al-Qaeda.

The Nigerian man told agents that he was directed by Anwar al-Awlaki, the US-born religious leader who was killed in a military raid last week in Yemen.

Abdulmutallab's failed attack was the "first act of terrorism" in the US during the administration of Barack Obama, and it could have implications in the debate over whether terrorism suspects should be tried in civilian or military courts.

Hospital-bed confession

Prosecutors have Abdulmutallab's hospital-bed confession, dozens of witnesses, remnants of the explosive and an al-Qaeda video featuring the 24-year-old explaining his suicide mission.

A conviction on multiple charges could bolster the argument that suspected terrorists should be prosecuted through civilian courts, not military proceedings.

Abdulmutallab faces eight charges, including conspiracy to commit terrorism and attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction.

The government says he wanted to blow up the plane by detonating chemicals in his underwear, just seven minutes before the jet carrying 279 passengers and a crew of 11 was to land at Detroit Metropolitan Airport.

But the bomb did not work. Passengers assisted by crew members saw flames and pounced on Abdulmutallab.

The government says Abdulmutallab willingly explained the plot twice, first to US border officers who took him off the plane and then in more detail to FBI agents who interviewed him at a hospital for 50 minutes, following treatment for serious burns to his groin.

New details

Following the raid that killed al-Awlaki, a US official outlined new details of al-Awlaki's involvement against the US, including Abdulmutallab's alleged mission.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, said al-Awlaki specifically directed Abdulmutallab to detonate an explosive device over US airspace to maximise casualties.

Al-Awlaki's name had been expected to come up during Abdulmutallab's trial, but his death put it back in the headlines and possibly the minds of potential jurors.

Abdulmutallab has suggested he will interview some prospective jurors and may give his own opening statement.

Source:
Agencies
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