Abdulmutallab Pleads Not Guilty in Plane Attack Plot

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the man accused of trying to destroy a Northwest Airlines plane carrying 290 people on Christmas Day, pleaded not guilty to U.S. criminal charges. The 23-year-old Nigerian entered his plea today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Randon in Detroit. As the flight approached the city’s airport, Abdulmutallab ignited his pants leg and a wall of the plane while trying to detonate a mixture of explosives he smuggled aboard, according to prosecutors.

In a hearing that took less than five minutes, Abdulmutallab, wearing a white T-shirt, beige pants and black- and-white shoes, told the judge he understood the charges against him.

The father of the Christmas day bomb attack suspect, Dr Abdulmutallab was in the courtroom to hear his son take a plea while American Muslims were seen carrying placards saying; ‘Not In the name of Islam’ outside the court in Detroit.

Outside the court, authorities set up metal barricades outside the courthouse and limiting foot traffic in the area. A protester stood holding a sign that read: “No U.S. Rights For Terrorists.” A few others gathered including a handful of local Muslim community members who held an American flag.

Maryam Uwais, a lawyer in Nigeria, and Mahmud Kazaure, a lawyer fromMaryland, told The Associated Press at the courthouse that they were sent by Abdulmutallab’s family to observe Friday’s arraignment. Neither have a role in the case, but both spoke briefly with the suspect’s legal team. They declined to further comment.  

The U.S. intelligence community’s failure to interdict the plot prompted President Barack Obama yesterday to order federal agencies to set clearer lines of responsibility for following up on leads on terrorist threats, to streamline criteria for adding names to watch lists, and to tighten airport security measures.

After Abdulmutallab tried to trigger an explosion on Flight 253 from Amsterdam, passengers and crew restrained him until the aircraft landed, prosecutors said.

Indicted on Jan. 6, Abdulmutallab is accused of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction, attempted murder, willfully trying to wreck an aircraft, placing a destructive device upon an aircraft and faces separate counts of possessing and using a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence.

Possible Life Term

“The charges that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab faces could imprison him for life,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a Jan. 6 statement announcing the indictment.

The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency said it learned about Abdulmutallab in November when his father, the former chairman of First Bank of Nigeria Plc, went to the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria to seek help in finding him.

Abdulmutallab was on the government’s Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment list, which names about 550,000 individuals with possible terrorist links. He hadn’t been moved from the so- called TIDE database to a terrorism watch list, or to the “selectee” list of about 14,000 names that triggers additional screening at airports, or to the “No Fly” list of about 4,000 names, according to Janet Napolitano, the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security.

U.S. lawmakers questioned why Abdulmutallab’s visa allowing him to travel to the U.S. wasn’t revoked after he was first linked to terrorist groups.

Al-Qaeda Training

Evidence indicates that Abdulmutallab was trained and equipped by a Yemeni group affiliated with al-Qaeda, the president said.

On board the Northwest jet, Abdulmutallab went into the bathroom for 20 minutes, came out and covered himself with a blanket and then tried to set off the explosive device, FBI Agent Theodore Peissig said in an affidavit filed Dec. 26 with a criminal complaint in Detroit.

Passengers, who reported hearing noises similar to firecrackers, noticed Abdulmutallab’s pants leg and an airplane wall on fire, according to the affidavit. They subdued the suspect and put out the blaze, Peissig said.

A passenger took a melted and smoking syringe from Abdulmutallab, according to Peissig. Remnants of a syringe were later found by investigators, he said.

The bomb, composed of pentaerythritol tetranitrate, or PETN, and triacetone triperoxide, or TATP, and other ingredients was designed to allow Abdulmutallab to detonate it at a time of his own choosing, according to the indictment.

Smaller Attacks

Stephen Flynn, who served as lead homeland security policy adviser for Obama’s transition team following his 2008 election, said U.S. efforts to disrupt al-Qaeda and its affiliates since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks have forced those groups to resort to smaller scale plots, including the one attributed to Abdulmutallab and a similar shoe-bomb attempt by Richard Reidin 2001.

Many of the newer al-Qaeda recruits are “self- radicalized” and open to the group’s message, said Flynn, who predicted more such suicide-bomber attacks.

“There’s limits to what the government can do,” said Flynn, noting that it was passengers who subdued Abdulmutallab and Reid and who stopped the United Airlines Flight 93 hijackers from reaching their Sept. 11 target. “The first defenders and first responders are going to be you and me in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

The case is U.S. v. Abdulmutallab, 10-cr-20005, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Michigan (Detroit).