Detroit: Jury selection was to start today in
the high stakes trial of a young African, accused of trying to bring down an airliner with a bomb in his underwear.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab`s failed attack was the first
act of terrorism in the US, during the Obama administration,
and it could have implications in the debate over whether
terrorism suspects should be tried in civilian or military
The case also revealed the rise of a dangerous al-Qaeda
affiliate and the growing influence of a radical Islamic
cleric who was killed by a CIA-US military strike only last
Abdulmutallab, a well-educated Nigerian from an upper-class family who has pleaded not guilty, was directed by
American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and said he wanted to
become a martyr on Christmas 2009, when he boarded Detroit-
bound Northwest Airlines Flight 253 in Amsterdam, according to
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
A conviction on multiple charges could bolster the
argument that suspected terrorists should be prosecuted
through civilian courts, not military proceedings.
Full-throated bipartisan opposition forced the Obama
administration to cancel a New York trial for professed Sept.
11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, although there have been
no similar issues in Detroit.
"Convictions that are achieved in federal court using
proper procedures will be upheld on appeal. That`s simply too
powerful a tool for the president not to use," said Vijay
Padmanabhan, a former State Department lawyer who handled
cases involving terror-related detainees at Guantanamo Bay,
"What people will be looking to see is whether the
administration can bring what appears be a fairly straight
forward case to fruition," Padmanabhan said.
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 didn`t work. Passengers assisted by crew
members saw flames and pounced on Abdulmutallab.