Jason Ryan reports from Detroit:
The trial for underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab gets underway in Detroit Tuesday where the 24-year-old Nigerian national faces charges for attempting to bomb Northwest Airlines flight 253 on Christmas day 2009 with 290 people on board.
The attempted attack left an indelible mark, exposing aviation security gaps and missed signals by U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism agencies in the post 9/11 era. The attempted bombing has resulted in more robust and sometime controversial passenger screenings and a ramping up of terrorist watch list efforts.
Abdulmutallab faces charges of attempted murder, attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction, willfully attempting to destroy an aircraft, placing a destructive device in proximity to an aircraft, and conspiracy to commit an act of terrorism.
It is expected at trial that the jury of nine women and three men will hear how Abdulmutallab transformed from a young man living in Nigeria to a hard-core radical who traveled to Yemen and sought out members of al Qaeda to undertake terrorist attacks against the United States.
The trial is also expected to yield new information about Abdulmutallab and his connections with the recently killed cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed September 30 in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen. Al-Awlaki has been at the center of numerous U.S. terrorism cases over the past two years with terrorism suspects either visiting his website or communicating with the cleric via e-mail.
According to statements Abdulmutallab allegedly provided to FBI agents after the attempted bombing Abdulmutallab stated that he was inspired to undertake attacks after visiting al-Awlaki’s websites.
The trial will recount the terrifying moments aboard the plane as Abdulmutallab tried to detonate the device which was allegedly crafted by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s master bomb maker Ibrahim Hassan Asiri.
Judge Nancy Edmunds has allowed the prosecutors to show the jury a video showing the destructive force a replica of Abdulmutallab’s underwear bomb could have had on the aircraft’s aluminum skin. The government intends to call an explosives expert who will address why the device failed to detonate despite allegedly having almost 200 grams of the high-explosives Triacetone Triperoxide (TATP) and Pentaerythritol Tetranitrate (PETN).
The jury will hear from passengers that were aboard the aircraft who heard loud popping noises then smoke and fire coming from Abdulmutallab’s lap as the intended bomb smoldered and burned Abdulmutallab. The flight attendants and passengers extinguished the flames and restrained Abdulmutallab who was detained and taken to a hospital for his burns.
Abdulmutallab, who has acted as his own attorney after he fired his initial team of defense counsel, will be able to question government expert witnesses and possibly the FBI agents who first took statements from him that he was a member of al Qaeda.
Abdulmutallab has filed his own court documents seeking to bar government witnesses and to prevent prosecutors from introducing a martyrdom video and issue of Inspire magazine, an English language recruiting magazine that was produced by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
In a court filing last month Abdulmutallab wrote to Judge Edmunds: “As non-Muslims the government and its expert witnesses cannot understand the meaning of the video and the magazine … because they do not understand the Quran, which is the basis of the video and magazine.”
It is unclear how the accused al Qaeda member will act during the trial, at times he has refused to rise before Judge Edmunds, he asked the judge if he could wear a traditional Yemeni dagger, a jambiya, in the courtroom during proceedings (the request was denied), and he has shouted outbursts that al-Awlaki is still alive.
Because of his unpredictable nature Abdulmutallab will also be represented by Anthony Chambers, a Detroit defense attorney who has acted as stand-by counsel to ensure Abdulmutallab receives a fair trial. Chambers has filed legal briefs in the case seeking to bar the government from playing the video of the underwear bomb, saying it is, “only meant to inflame the jury and appeal to the jurors’ emotions.”
Chambers has also contended that the FBI could not know how much explosive Abdulmutallab had in the underwear bomb, and has argued about the FBI’s questioning of Abdulmutallab without his Miranda rights being given to the attempted bomber.
“It’s a very defensible case … to have an explosion, you have to have an explosive,” Chambers told the Detroit News in January 2011, adding that he would dispute the destructive force of the failed bomb.
The trial is expected to last 3 to 4 weeks.