A federal grand jury in Detroit today indicted Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab on six charges for allegedly attempting to destroy Northwest flight 253 on Christmas Day. The indictment mirrors a previous criminal complaint against the alleged al Qaeda operative but reveals that the 23-year-old Nigerian used both pentaerythritol (PETN) along with a triacetone triperoxide (TATP) concealed in his underwear.
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Both PETN and TATP are high explosives. The original criminal complaint had only listed PETN as the explosive but the government says a more thorough analysis conducted by the FBI revealed TATP was present as well.
The indictment notes, "The bomb was designed to allow defendant Umar Farouk Abdulmuttallab to detonate it at a time of his choosing, and thereby cause an explosion aboard flight 253."
Abdulmutallab was initially charged Dec. 26, 2009, and was expected to have a detention hearing this Friday in Detroit before a federal judge.
But now that a grand jury has indicted him, Abdulmutallab will instead be arraigned Friday on the six charges against him which include the attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction, attempted murder, the willful attempt to destroy and wreck an aircraft within the jurisdiction of the U.S., willfully placing a destructive device on an aircraft and two counts of possession of a firearm destructive in furtherance of a crime of violence. Being tried as a criminal defendant has alarmend many conservatives.
"This man is an enemy combatant," says Marc Thiessen, a speechwriter for former President G.W. Bush. "Not a suspect, not a criminal and he should be treated as such." Conservatives argue for military commissions, where defendants have fewer rights. Once in the criminal justice system, they say, the government loses the opportunity to get intelligence.
"This is a guy who has information that we need right away," says Thiessen. "If you indict and negotiate with him and plea bargain with him, you're wasting time. We need this intelligence now before the next attack happens."
If he is convicted of the charges, Abdulmutallab could face life in prison. "The attempted murder of 289 innocent people merits the most serious charges available, and that's what we have charged in this indictment," said U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade. Lawyers at the federal defenders office in Detroit could not be reached for comment.
The charges filed against Abdulmutallab are similar to charges filed against al Qaeda shoe bomber Richard Reid who attempted to ignite a shoe bomb aboard American Airlines flight 63 which landed in Boston in December 2001.
Reid also was charged with interfering with a flight crew when he assaulted a member of the crew.
Abdulmutallab was restrained by passengers who extinguished the attempt to detonate the device. President Obama yesterday told his national security team during a meeting in the White House Situation Room, "We dodged a bullet but just barely….It was averted by brave individuals, not because the system worked, and that is not acceptable."
The investigation into how Abdulmutallab was able to board an aircraft initiated a massive review of terrorism threat analysis and the watchlisting process. U.S. officials had several steps to detect Abdulmutallab before he departed for the United States.
The most glaring missed signal was a Nov. 19, 2009, meeting between Abdulmutallab's father and a CIA officer at the U.S. embassy in Abuja, Nigeria, where the father expressed his concern that his son was being radicalized in Yemen.
CIA and State Department officials sent a cable to regional embassies and the National Counterterrorism Center where his name was entered into a terrorism database, but Abdulmutallab was not flagged to the no-fly list because there was not enough information about him.
According to U.S. officials it is believed that Abdulmutallab was trained by members of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula where he lived and studied before returning to his home in Nigeria.
Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement Wednesday, "This investigation is fast-paced, global and ongoing, and it has already yielded valuable intelligence that we will follow wherever it leads. Anyone we find responsible for this alleged attack will be brought to justice using every tool -- military or judicial -- available to our government."
The White House argues that even the Bush admimistration successfully prosecuted terrorists -- so-called 20th hijacker Zacarias Moussaoui and shoe-bomber Richard Reid -- not in military commisions but in civilian criminal courts. Moreover, according to a report released by Human Rights First, between Sept. 11, 2001 and June 2008, the government -- mostly under President Bush -- prosecuted 214 accused terrorists in criminal courts. 195 were convicted or pleaded guilty.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has expressed support for the decision to pursue criminal charges, saying there is very little variance between what the FBI can do in interrogations and what military interrogators can do -- unless you use the enhanced interrogation methods that President Obama banned.
The averted bombing has prompted a beefing up of international and domestic security screenings for air travel. According to DHS officials, the department has also ramped up security measures for other mass transportation systems as well.