DETROIT (WWJ/AP) – A federal appeals court has heard arguments in the case of a Nigerian man who tried to blow up a Detroit-bound jet on Christmas 2009.
An attorney for Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab says his guilty plea should be thrown out and a mental competency hearing ordered. Travis Rossman also argues that a life sentence for a young man is extreme, especially when no one except Abdulmutallab was seriously injured aboard Northwest Airlines Flight 253.
An appeals court in Cincinnati heard arguments Thursday on those issues and more. There was no immediate decision.
Abdulmutallab, now 26, pleaded guilty to trying to blow up the plane with a bomb sewn into his underwear. It failed to fully detonate aboard an Amsterdam-to-Detroit flight but caused a brief fire that badly burned his groin. Passengers pounced on Abdulmutallab and forced him to the front of the airplane where he was held until the plane landed minutes later.
Abdulmutallab, the well-educated son of a wealthy banker, talked freely to the FBI about his desire to commit martyrdom for his Islamic faith. He said the bomb in his underwear was a “blessed weapon” to avenge poorly treated Muslims around the world.
In 2009, months before the attack, Abdulmutallab traveled to Yemen in a desperate bid to see Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born cleric and one of the best-known al-Qaida figures, according to the government. He told investigators that his mission was approved after a three-day visit with his mentor.
Al-Awlaki and the bomb maker were killed in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen in 2011, just days before Abdulmutallab’s trial. At the time, President Barack Obama publicly blamed al-Awlaki for the terrorism plot. Abdulmutallab is an “unrepentant would-be mass murderer who views his crimes as divinely inspired and blessed, and who views himself as under a continuing obligation to carry out such crimes,” prosecutors said in a court filing.
The case also had lasting implications for security screening at American airports. Abdulmutallab’s ability to defeat security in Amsterdam contributed to the deployment of full-body scanners at U.S. airports. The Transportation Security Administration was using the scanners in some American cities at the time, but the attack accelerated their placement. There are now hundreds of the devices nationwide.
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