'Underwear bomber' to be sentenced in US
Detroit - The young Nigerian dubbed the "underwear bomber" after he tried to blow up a packed US-bound airliner on Christmas Day in 2009 will be sentenced at a hearing here on Thursday.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, aged 25, faces a mandatory life sentence after pleading guilty in October to eight charges, including the attempted murder of 289 people on board Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines Flight 253.
In what court documents say was a plot hatched by slain al-Qaeda preacher Anwar al-Awlaqi, the incident sparked global alarm and caused the United States to tighten up both its no-fly list screening system and airport screenings.
Despite stringent security measures at airports in the wake of the September 11 2001 attacks, he managed to smuggle 76g of the explosive Pentaerythritol tetranitrate on board the flight from Amsterdam.
Luckily, the bomb hidden in his underwear failed to properly detonate and instead simply caused a fire as the aircraft began its descent.
Passengers and crew members were able to restrain Abdulmutallab and extinguish the blaze, allowing pilots to safely land the plane.
Abdulmutallab's court-appointed standby counsel filed a motion on Monday seeking a lesser sentence with the argument that life in prison is unwarranted because nobody else was actually injured.
But prosecutors have argued that the judge must send a strong message to an unrepentant "terrorist" and give him the maximum allowable sentence on all eight counts.
Back in October, Abdulmutallab, who fired his lawyers and chose to represent himself, used his opening statements to plead guilty to the charges while insisting his actions were righteous and that the true crime was US foreign policy.
"I am guilty of this count in US law but not in the Koran," he said in a six-minute speech on the second day of his trial.
Thursday's sentencing hearing will give prosecutors and several of his intended victims the opportunity to weigh in.
Prosecutors have asked for permission to show a video demonstrating what would have happened had the bomb operated as planned.
They also sought to call a martyrdom expert who concluded that Abdulmutallab is unrepentant and would try to act as a suicide bomber again if given the opportunity.
"There also exists the likelihood that he will become a role model and proxy of fundamentalist Islamic jihadists, assisting them in the recruitment of new martyrs," Simon Perry, a criminologist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, wrote in a pre-trial memo.
The extent of Awlaqi's involvement emerged in a prosecution memo filed on Friday arguing for a stiff sentence.
Abdulmutallab told investigators that he had been following Awlaqi online for years and travelled to Yemen in August 2009 to seek out the radical US-born cleric.
He was driven through the desert to Awlaqi's home after tracking down his cell phone number through visits to mosques and then writing to him about his desire to "become involved in jihad", the memo said.
Abdulmutallab stayed with Awlaqi for three days and was then taken to a bomb-maker after he was accepted for the mission.
Obama under duress
He then spent two weeks at a training camp where he "received instruction in weapons and indoctrination in jihad" and then Awlaqi hired a "professional film crew" to shoot Abdulmutallab's five-minute martyrdom video.
"Although Awlaqi gave defendant operational flexibility, Awlaqi instructed defendant that the only requirements were that the attack be on a US airliner, and that the attack take place over US soil," the memo said.
Abdulmutallab's guilty plea came before a new law took effect requiring al-Qaeda suspects, arrested like him on American soil, to be held in military custody and possibly face a military tribunal.
President Barack Obama made it clear in signing the bill, though, that he did so under duress and indicated that he would be prepared to use a waiver to keep proceedings in the civilian arena if he deemed it appropriate.