DETROIT – A Nigerian man accused of trying to bring down an international jetliner with a bomb in his underwear walked into the start of his federal trial Tuesday and declared that a radical Islamic cleric killed by the U.S. military is alive.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's outburst came as jury selection got under way for his federal terror trial in Detroit, where the 24-year-old is acting as his own attorney and has previously told reporters they should stop reporting that Osama bin Laden was dead.
"Anwar is alive," Abdulmutallab said Tuesday, referring to American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed last week by a joint CIA-U.S. military air strike in Yemen.
"The mujahadeen will wipe out the U.S. -- the cancer U.S.," he added.
Abdulmutallab, a well-educated Nigerian from an upper-class family, was directed by al-Awlaki and wanted to become a martyr when he boarded Northwest Airlines Flight 253 in Amsterdam on Christmas 2009, according to the government.
Abdulmutallab, who complained loudly at a previous hearing about having to wear prison clothes, came into the courtroom Tuesday wearing an oversized prison T-shirt. U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds called a brief recess to allow him to change into clothes more appropriate for court, after acknowledging and denying his apparent request to wear a "Yemeni belt with a dagger."
Abdulmutallab later wore a long robe with a dark pinstriped suit coat over it, as well as a black skull cap.
The judge has denied several of Abdulmutallab's requests for the trial, including that the case be judged under Islamic law.
Abdulmutallab has pleaded not guilty to eight charges, including conspiracy to commit terrorism and attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction. The government says he wanted to blow up the plane by detonating chemicals in his underwear, just seven minutes before the jet carrying 279 passengers and a crew of 11 was to land at Detroit Metropolitan Airport.
But the bomb didn't work, and passengers assisted by crew members saw flames and pounced on Abdulmutallab.
The failed suicide attack, the first act of terrorism in the U.S. during the Obama administration, revealed the rise of a dangerous al-Qaida affiliate and al-Awlaki's growing influence.
The government says Abdulmutallab willingly explained the plot twice, first to U.S. border officers who took him off the plane and then in more detail to FBI agents who interviewed him at a hospital for 50 minutes, following treatment for serious burns to his groin.
Abdulmutallab told authorities he trained in Yemen, home base for Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. He said he was influenced by al-Awlaki, who was killed Friday by an air strike that President Barack Obama called a "major blow" to al-Qaida's most dangerous franchise.
Following the strike, a U.S. official outlined new details of al-Awlaki's involvement against the U.S., including Abdulmutallab's alleged mission. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, said al-Awlaki specifically directed Abdulmutallab to detonate an explosive device over U.S. airspace to maximize casualties.
Osama bin Laden appeared in a video declaring Abdulmutallab a "hero." Abdulmutallab also has been lauded by al-Qaida's English-language Web magazine Inspire, whose editor was killed along with al-Awlaki.
After the outburst about al-Awlaki and flap over Abdulmutallab's clothes, jury selection got under way in earnest, with most questioning done by the judge and attorney Anthony Chambers, who has been appointed to assist Abdulmutallab.
Abdulmutallab, who had suggested he would interview some prospective jurors and could give his own opening statement, calmly questioned one woman who indicated she had concerns about retaliation for serving on the jury.
The woman remained in the jury pool, but several others were immediately dismissed after saying they could not be impartial.