Underwear bomber trial: Will it shed light on American cleric killed in Yemen?
The trial of accused underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is set to begin Tuesday. Will testimony support Obama's contention that slain cleric Anwar al-Awlaki 'directed' the failed plot?
Accused underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is set to stand trial Tuesday on charges that he attempted to destroy a Northwest Airlines flight with 281 passengers and 11 crew members onboard as part of an Al Qaeda terror plot on Christmas Day 2009.Skip to next paragraph
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The bomb, sewn into a pair of underwear, failed to properly detonate. Mr. Abdulmutallab was badly burned in the attempt and was subdued by passengers and crew before being turned over to federal authorities.
The high-profile terror trial in federal court in Detroit will be closely followed as part of an ongoing debate over the use of civilian courts rather than military commissions to prosecute suspected terrorists.
The bomb plot exposed significant vulnerabilities in airport security screenings and highlighted the increasing potency of Al Qaeda spin-off groups, such as Yemen-based Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninusula.
The 24-year-old Nigerian student is representing himself with the help of an appointed stand-by counsel. The expected month-long trial will be heard by a jury of nine women and three men.
Abdulmutallab is accused in an eight-count indictment of conspiring with Al Qaeda to conduct a terrorist-martyrdom mission by using explosives to destroy a commercial jetliner and murder everyone on board. If convicted, he faces life in prison.
He has pleaded not guilty.
His trial begins less than two weeks after US-born Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki was killed in a CIA drone attack in Yemen. In a statement afterward, President Obama said Mr. Awlaki “directed” the failed Christmas Day bombing, but the full extent of his involvement remains unclear.
Shortly after the failed bombing, Abdulmutallab told FBI agents that he had been inspired to join Al Qaeda’s jihad against the US after visiting websites featuring Awlaki’s statements and sermons.
Court papers filed in Abdulmutallab’s case do not detail a larger role for Awlaki in the plot. But live testimony might offer new information supporting the president’s assertion that Awlaki directed the attempted terror attack.
According to federal prosecutors, Abdulmutallab left his native Nigeria and traveled to Yemen in August 2009 where he made contact with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. He was allegedly trained to conduct a suicide attack against the US mainland on behalf of Al Qaeda.
His instruction included how to detonate a small bomb containing highly concentrated explosives, PETN and TATP.
Prosecutors say he transported the bomb from Yemen, through several countries in the Middle East, Africa, and Europe by wearing the device in his underpants. He eventually boarded Northwest Flight 253 in Amsterdam for a non-stop trip to Detroit.