Accused "underwear bomber" Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab entered a Detroit courtroom under high security today and pleaded not guilty to charges that he tried to blow up a jetliner filled with Christmas travelers.
The short and slightly built suspect shuffled into the courtroom wearing an untucked white T-shirt and khaki pants and looking somewhat dazed with his eyes downcast.
It wasn't clear whether Abdulmutallab was shuffling sideways because of the fact that his ankles were shackled or because of burn injuries he may have suffered during the botched attempt to ignite a bomb in his underwear. Instead of exploding, the device caught fire.
During the brief five minute hearing, the 23-year-old Nigerian sat hunched over and impassive as his lawyers surrounded him and spoke with him. When called before the judge, he spoke so softly that federal Magistrate Judge Mark Randen had to urge him to speak up.
Standing slack-jawed, the suspect appeared to rely on his lawyers' promptings in answering the judge's questions. He could be heard answering "yes" when asked whether he understood the charges against him.
He lawyers did not ask for bail.
As the hearing was adjourned, Abdulmutallab looked around the courtroom before he was escorted out.
Outside the courtroom, Abdulmutallab's lawyer, Miriam Siefer, said he hobbled because of the ankle shackles. "Frankly all my clients move that way," she said.
The arraignment took place in a federal courthouse two days after afederal grand jury indicted Abdulmutallab on six charges, including an attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction -- a bomb concealed in his underwear. If convicted of the most serious crime, Abdulmutallab, who is 23, could be sentenced to life in prison.
The court appearance came a day after President Obama scolded his national security team for not recognizing warning signs that Abdulmutallab was a threat. The administration also released a declassified version of how the near disaster occurred.
Courthouse security was obvious in the hours before the arraignment. Abdulmutallab was brought to court in a small caravan of U.S. marshals that drove into an underground garage beneath the courthouse. Outside, metal barricades were erected and streets on two sides of the courthouse were blocked by police so no traffic could enter.
Two lawyers for Abdulmutallab's wealthy Nigerian family, one from Nigeria and one from the U.S., conferred briefly with his public defenders before the hearing began. Abdulmutallab's father, a prominent Nigerian banker, had tried to warned Nigerian and U.S. officials that he feared his son had come under the influence of jihadists.
The suspect's arraignment triggered a fresh debate over whether Abdulmutallab and other accused terrorists should be tried in America's civil courts with rights to lawyers and other civil protections, or whether they should be relegated to military tribunals.
Judge Michael Mukasey, who was attorney general in President George W. Bush's administration, called the decision to try Abdulmutallab in criminal courts and give him the same rights as American citizens was a "missed opportunity" to get information about terrorists that could be acted upon.
"I think what should have happened is that Mr. Abdulmutallab should have been designated an