Underpants bomber sought martyrdom
Datroit - A young Nigerian man who hid explosives in his underwear aimed to kill nearly 300 people aboard a US-bound airliner on Christmas 2009 so (that) he could achieve martyrdom, US prosecutors said on Tuesday.
"All of those passengers had plans to be somewhere. All except one: Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab," US federal prosecutor Jonathan Tukel said in his opening statement.
"He had no plans. He had a mission for al-Qaeda. His mission, his goal, his sole reason for being on flight 253 was to blow it up.
"He thought by doing that he would end up somewhere else... he thought he would end up in heaven because he would be a martyr."
The plot failed because the explosives stitched in his underwear failed to fully detonate and instead caused a massive fireball.
That fireball could have been deadly but for the swift actions of passengers and crew members who rushed over to put it out as panic and pandemonium broke out on the Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam as it prepared to land in Detroit, Tukel said.
The botched operation triggered global alarm and led the United States to adopt stringent new screening and security measures, including controversial pat downs at airports and a massive expansion of the no-fly list.
The reputation of the nation's intelligence services also took a hit because Abdulmutallab's father, a prominent Nigerian banker, had warned the CIA about his son's growing Islamic radicalisation.
Republicans capitalised on the missteps and the revived security fears to paint President Barack Obama as weak on terror.
The closely watched trial in Detroit comes two weeks after the killing of al-Qaeda preacher Anwar al-Awlaqi in a US air strike in Yemen. US intelligence officials have repeatedly linked the US-born cleric to the Christmas Day plot.
Tukel said Abdulmutallab was inspired by Awlaqi's videos to abandon his comfortable life at a Dubai graduate school and seek "violent jihad" in Yemen.
Tukel showed jurors still images from a martyrdom video Abdulmutallab allegedly recorded in Yemen before heading to Amsterdam to board the flight.
The video was a call to arms in which Abdulmutallab allegedly says: "My Muslim brothers in the Arabian Peninsula, you have to answer the call of jihad because the enemy is in your land."
Tukel said more damning evidence came from Abdulmutallab himself after he told everyone he came into contact with - passengers, crew members, the border control agent who escorted him from the plane, paramedics, hospital staff and the FBI - that he was working with al-Qaeda and aimed to blow up the plane over US soil.
One nurse asked him whether he intended to harm himself, a standard medical question.
"He said no. That's martyrdom," Tukel told jurors."That's his religious view. It's permitted. It's not harming himself or others."
Abdulmutallab, 24, has fired his attorneys and insisted on representing himself, though Judge Nancy Edmunds has repeatedly urged him to let a lawyer argue his case and appointed "standby counsel" to help him prepare.
Abdulmutallab declined to make an opening statement on Tuesday or have lawyer Anthony Chambers handle it for him and but reserved the right to make one later.
He is expected to attempt to use the trial as a platform for espousing his radical views.
Jury selection, which took three days, was marked by incendiary outbursts by Abdulmutallab, including a pledge that Islamic militants will wipe out "the cancer US" and his praise for Awlaqi.
He was calm on Tuesday as he walked into the courtroom dressed in a blue tunic with gold trim and a black skullcap and slumped in his seat during Tukel's remarks.
Abdulmutallab faces life in prison if convicted on eight terrorism-related charges.