13 October 2011

Nigeria: Abdulmutallab - Yes, I'm Guilty

Photo: ThisDay
A file photo of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, released by U.S. officials.

New York and Lagos — The 24-year-old Nigerian who tried to bring down a United States-bound Northwest Airlines Flight 253 from the Netherlands, on December 25, 2009, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, yesterday told a US Federal High Court "I am guilty" of the act.

After making the plea, it became obvious that he will be jailed for life and US District Judge Nancy Edmunds fixed January 12, 2012 for the sentencing.

Abdulmutallab took the court by surprise when he said, in apparent justification of his action that he tried to bring down the airplane over Detroit with a bomb in his underwear, as retaliation for the killing of Muslims worldwide.

The Nigerian, who had never denied the accusations against him, calmly answered questions from Judge Edmunds before pleading guilty to all eight charges he faced, including conspiracy to commit terrorism and attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction, Chicago Sun Times reported.

He then told the court that the underwear bomb was a "blessed weapon to save the lives of innocent Muslims".

"The United States should be warned that if they continue to persist and promote the blasphemy of Mohammed and the prophets... the United States should await a great calamity that will befall them through the hands of the mujahedeen soon," said Abdulmutallab.

"If you laugh with us now, we will laugh with you later on the day of judgment," he said.

Outside the court, Defence Attorney Anthony Chambers said Abdulmutallab, who had chosen to represent himself and was being assisted by Chambers, pleaded guilty against the lawyer's wishes.

"We wanted to continue the trial but we respect his decision," Chambers said.

Abdulmutallab, who told the judge he is 25, said he carried a bomb in his underwear onto Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on Christmas 2009 with the intention of killing the nearly 300 people on board.

The bomb didn't work, and passengers jumped on Abdulmutallab when they saw smoke and fire.

The evidence was stacked high. Abdulmutallab was badly burned on a plane full of witnesses. The government said he told FBI agents he was working for al-Qaeda and directed by a radical, American-born Muslim cleric recently killed by the US in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki.

There were also photos of his scorched shorts as well as video of Abdulmutallab explaining his suicide mission before departing for the US.

In September 2010, Abdulmutallab suggested he wanted to plead guilty to some charges. But he did not, and instead dropped his four-lawyer, publicly financed defence team and decided to represent himself. He said relying on others was not in his best interest.

His lawyers at the time said they had talked to prosecutors about a possible plea deal. Abdulmutallab had asked the judge what he needed to do to plead guilty to some charges but nothing happened and a trial was set.

Passenger Lori Haskell, 34, of Newport, Michigan, watched Abdulmutallab's plea by video in an overflow room yesterday. She called his statement in court "chilling" but not surprising.

"I'm just really relieved that it's done with," Haskell said.

Abdulmutallab had written a few court filings in his own hand, including a request to be judged by Islamic law. He at times appeared agitated in court, declaring that Osama bin Laden and al-Awlaki are alive. He also objected to trial testimony from experts who would have discussed al-Qaeda and martyrdom.

On Tuesday, a passenger on Flight 253 testified that Abdulmutallab took a long bathroom break in the plane, during which prosecutors said he was preparing for death.

"I thought he was freshening up for arrival in Detroit... We had less than an hour to go," said passenger Mike Zantow of Madison, Wisconsin.

Assistant US Attorney Jonathan Tukel said Abdulmutallab believed his calling that day was martyrdom.

"He was preparing to die and enter heaven," Tukel said. "He purified himself. He washed. He brushed his teeth. He put on perfume."

After returning to his seat, Abdulmutallab pushed a syringe plunger into the chemical bomb, an action that produced a loud "pop" sound, then flames and smoke, the prosecutor said.

"Then all hell broke loose. While the fireball was on him, the defendant sat there. He didn't move. He was expressionless. He was completely blank," Tukel said.

The government said 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.

Abdulmutallab told authorities he trained in Yemen, home base for Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and was influenced by al-Awlaki.

Following the strike, a US official outlined new details of al-Awlaki's involvement against the US, including Abdulmutallab's 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.

Officials said al-Awlaki was believed to be at a gathering of al-Qaeda figures in Yemen's Shabwa mountains a day before the attack, after which bin Laden appeared in a video declaring Abdulmutallab a "hero."

Abdulmutallab also has been lauded by al-Qaeda's English-language web magazine Inspire, whose editor was killed along with al-Awlaki.

With Agency Reports

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