Prosecutor: Nigerian in Failed US Airliner Attack Sought ‘Martyrdom’

Posted October 11th, 2011 at 2:20 pm (UTC-5)
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The trial of a Nigerian man accused of trying to blow up an American airliner with a bomb hidden in his underwear has opened with a U.S. federal prosecutor saying the defendant wanted to achieve martyrdom.

In his opening statement Tuesday, prosecutor Jonathan Tukel told the jury Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was on the December 25, 2009 flight for one reason – to kill all 290 people on board, including himself, as part of an al-Qaida mission.

The 24-year-old defendant, dressed in an African gown and black skullcap, was silent as the prosecutor spoke in the courtroom in Detroit. He is acting as his own lawyer but is relying on a court-appointed standby attorney to handle much of the courtroom work. The attorney, Anthony Chambers, declined to make an opening statement but reserved the right to make one later.

Abdulmutallab faces multiple charges including conspiracy to commit terrorism in connection with the incident on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit. Passengers and crew members subdued him after his explosives caught fire but failed to detonate as the plane prepared to land, leaving him with severe burns.

Tukel said Abdulmutallab incriminated himself by telling passengers, crew members, and U.S. authorities on the ground that he had tried to blow up the plane on behalf of al-Qaida. The prosecutor also showed jurors images from a video made before the incident that he said shows al-Qaida taking credit for the failed bombing and Abdulmutallab urging fellow Muslims to engage in holy war.

Prosecutors were expected to call passengers from the plane as witnesses to testify against the defendant.

The defense may call as a witness one of the plane's passengers who claims the failed bombing is part of a U.S. government conspiracy to stage a simulated terrorist attack, in order to justify the wars and costly airport scanning machines. The passenger, Kurt Haskell, has said he saw a well-dressed man help Abdulmutallab bypass security before boarding the flight at Amsterdam's airport. Authorities have discounted that theory.

Abdulmutallab has made several outbursts in pre-trial hearings, proclaiming allegiance to al-Qaida and claiming that Yemen-based radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki is still alive. The American-born Awlaki was killed last month in Yemen by a U.S. drone.