DETROIT — THE trial of a 24 year old Nigerian, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, accused of trying to blow up a Detroit bound flight on Christmas Day in 2009 commenced yesterday on a dramatic note as a defiant Abdulmutallab shouted “Sheik Anwar is alive! We will wipe out the US … we will defend Muhammad!” and called the United States a “cancer” just before jury selection began in his trial.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, whose attempted bombing led to a further tightening of U.S. aviation security, also blurted out “Anwar is alive” – an apparent reference to al Qaeda cleric Anwar al-Awlaki who was linked to the defendant and killed by a U.S. drone attack in Yemen last week.
Abdulmutallab, is charged with attempting to detonate explosives sewn into his underpants as Northwest Flight 253 approached Detroit from Amsterdam. The device malfunctioned and burned Abdulmutallab, who was then overpowered by other passengers. He faces life in prison if convicted.
After his outburst, US District Judge Nancy Edmunds urged Abdulmutallab to change out of his prison-issued T-shirt into something that would make him more presentable to potential jurors.
The accused terrorist said he wanted to wear his shirt and Yemeni belt with a dagger, but Edmunds said she would not allow a dagger in her courtroom. He was taken out of court to change and came back wearing a very long shirt that went to his ankles with a black jacket over it and skullcap.
In a court appearance last month, Abdulmutallab repeatedly disrupted court proceedings yelling phrases including “Osama is alive,” in reference to slain al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, and propping his feet on the defense table.
Abdulmutallab, who has no formal legal training, has decided to act as his own attorney in defending against charges that could lead to a life sentence. He has indicated that he wants to address the jury directly, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The federal trial in Detroit, which is expected to last several weeks, began with jury selection Tuesday morning. A few of the prospective jurors were excused after questioning, including a former Detroit cop who said he probably would have difficulty being fair and a saleswoman who said her opinion is that the defendant is guilty.
“He tried to kill 300 innocent people,” the potential juror said, according to the Detroit Free Press. “I just feel he’s very guilty.”
Abdulmutallab, a fluent English speaker who has said he wants to represent himself at the trial, was dressed in an oversized white T_shirt and sat quietly at his defense table as court was called to order.
When the court reconvened a few minutes later, Abdulmutallab was dressed in a black jacket with thin pinstripes over a tan_colored robe and baggy pants. He also was wearing a black skull cap.
Awlaki, a U.S-born Muslim cleric of Yemeni descent, was identified by U.S. intelligence as “chief of external operations” for al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen.
Yemen-based Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed responsibility for the botched airliner attack. The attempted bombing was also praised by Osama bin Laden in 2010, months before he was killed in a U.S. commando raid in Pakistan.
Last month, Abdulmutallab muttered “Osama’s alive” to spectators as he was brought in for a hearing. He also mumbled “jihad” when the judge used the phrase “al Qaeda” as she read the charges against him.
Appointment of jurors
The first potential juror, a former Detroit police officer, was quickly dismissed. When Edmunds asked the second, a secretary in the auto industry, if she thought she could withhold judgment unless the government established Abdulmutallab’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, she said, “I don’t think so.
“He tried to kill 300 innocent people … I feel he’s very guilty.”
Edmunds said final jury selection -12 jurors and four alternates – would take place Thursday afternoon. By midday, nine women and two men had made the preliminary grade and four had been excused. The judge, the attorneys – and at one point, Abdulmutallab himself – quizzed most of the potential jurors on the answer they gave to one question on the preliminary questionnaire: “If you are selected to serve as a juror on the case, would you be concerned about reactions to the verdict by anyone?”
Abdulmutallab asked one juror if she agreed that an angry reaction could be triggered by a not guilty verdict as well as a guilty verdict. She agreed, and neither side dismissed her from the pool.