(DETROIT) — Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who tried to bring down Northwest flight 253 over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009 with an underwear bomb, said he was was “proud to kill in the name of God” before he was sentenced Thursday in a Detroit courtroom to multiple life sentences.
“Today is a day of victory and God is great,” said Abdulmutallab. He also said that al Qaeda would one day be victorious, and that acts like his will continue until “the righteous servants of Allah inherit the world.”
“The defendant has never expressed doubt or remorse about his mission,” said Judge Nancy Edmunds in imposing four life sentences plus 50 years. “To the contrary, he sees that mission as divinely inspired and a continuing mission.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Cathleen Corken had asked Judge Edmunds to impose the maximum sentence allowable for Abdulmutallab’s “cold-blooded, calculated plan to kill everyone aboard the plane.”
“We ask the court to impose the maximum sentence on each count,” said Corken, “to ensure that he never again will have the chance to harm an American citizen.”
Earlier, five passengers who had been on flight 253 each got a chance to speak. Shama Chopra of Montreal told Abdulmutallab, “You had no right to take my life,” but then handed Abdulmutallab’s lawyer a rosary to give to the 25-year-old Nigerian, who is a devout Muslim.
New York immigration lawyer Theophilus Maranga told Abdulmutallab, “My family prays for you.” He also told the judge he is now afraid to fly. Maranga is suing Delta Airlines and KLM-Air France for injuries he says he sustained while subduing Abdulmutallab.
Northwest flight attendant Lamare Mason put out the flames ignited by Abdulmutallab’s bomb. He told the judge that he wakes up in night sweats, and that Abdulmutallab had robbed him of “the pleasure of going to work.” Kurt Haskell, a Michigan lawyer, praised Mason for damping the flames and also criticized what he characterized as lax security that allowed Abdulmutallab to get on the plane. Haskell, who has long promoted a conspiracy theory that asserts the U.S. government was complicit in the attack, repeated his assertion. “I am convinced that Umar was given an intentionally defective bomb by a U.S. agent to stage a false terrorist attack.”
Then the federal government showed a 52-second videotape showing the effect of 200 grams of PTN exploding on a sheet of aluminum. The government estimates that Abdulmutallab’s original bomb contained at least 200 grams of PETN.
The life sentence was mandatory after Abdulmutallab pled guilty to eight charges, including attempted murder, attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction and conspiracy to commit an act of terrorism.
Prosecutors asked for consecutive life terms, calling him “an unrepentant would-be mass murderer who views his crimes as divinely inspired and blessed.”
He is expected to be sent to the federal “supermax” penitentiary in Florence, Colorado. The prison, widely considered the most secure in the U.S., already houses other notorious inmates, including Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols, Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad, 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui, and 1993 World Trade Center bombing conspirator Ramzi Yousef.
Abdulmutallab refused to see his parents, who traveled to the U.S. and tried to visit him at the federal prison in Milan, Michigan.
Abdulmutallab went to trial last October, but stopped the proceedings on the second day by suddenly changing his plea to guilty on all counts.
He called the failed explosives he had hidden in his underwear a “blessed weapon to save the lives of innocent Muslims” and said he had attempted to bomb Northwest flight 253 “because of the tyranny of the United States.”
“The Koran obliges every able Muslim to participate in jihad and fight in the way of Allah,” Abdulmutallab told the court. “I carried the device to avenge the killing of my Muslim brothers and sisters… Unfortunately, my actions make me guilty of a crime.”
“The United States should be warned that if they continue to persist and promote the blasphemy of Mohammad and the prophets,” said Abdulmutallab, “the United States should await a great calamity that will befall them through the hands of the mujahedeen soon.”
“If you laugh with us now, we will laugh with you later on the day of judgment,” he said. Abdulmutallab also said he had been “greatly inspired” by Anwar al-Awlaki and insisted that Awlaki, who had been killed in a U.S. drone strike just weeks earlier, was still alive.
Lead prosecutor Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Tuckel said he was “very surprised” by Abdulmutallab’s decision to plead guilty, as was FBI Special Agent in Charge of the Detroit field office Andy Arena. “I didn’t see this one coming,” Arena said.
An attorney working with Abdulmutallab, Anthony Chambers, told reporters it was Abdulmutallab’s decision to switch his plea even though Chambers disagreed.
“No lawyer worth his weight in salt would agree,” Chambers said. “I thought the evidence was lacking… I don’t think there was any damage to that plane.”
On Christmas Day, 2009, Abdulmutallab flew from Ghana to Amsterdam and boarded Northwest flight 253, bound for Detroit.
As the plane prepared to land in Detroit, Abdulmutallab spent an extended period in the bathroom, and then returned to his seat, where he covered himself with a blanket. When he tried to detonate the bomb in his underwear, passengers heard a popping, and saw flames spreading from his crotch. A Dutch passenger leapt on top of Abdulmutallab and flight attendants stopped the fire with fire extinguishers.
Abdulmutallab was found to have white powder packed into his underwear, as well as a plastic syringe to administer a liquid that was supposed to activate the explosives.
Taken into custody, he was treated for burns to his hands, leg and genitalia.
After the incident, Abdulmutallab told Customs and Border Protection officer Marvin Steigerwald that he obtained the device in Yemen and that he hid it in his underwear. When he was questioned later by two FBI agents, Abdulmutallab said he went to Yemen to become involved in jihad and that he was influenced by a man named Abu Tarak to undertake a suicide operation, investigators said.
Intelligence officials said that while in Yemen, Abdulmutallab also met with Anwar al-Awlaki. In March 2010, Awlaki released a tape praising Abdulmutallab. He addressed the American people and said that nine years after the 9/11 attacks, “you are still unsafe even in the holiest and most sacred of days to you, Christmas Day.”
“Our brother Umar Farouk has succeeded in breaking through the security systems that have cost the U.S. government alone over $40 billion,” said Awlaki.
U.S. officials say that Awlaki was in electronic communication with Abdulmutallab repeatedly prior to the bombing of Northwest flight 253.
After Abdulmutallab’s arrest, his family in Nigeria released a statement saying they had been so concerned about his political extremism that they had reported him to Nigerian authorities and to “foreign security agencies” months before the bombing.
The statement said that Abdulmutallab’s recent behavior was “completely out of character and a very recent development, as before then, from very early childhood, Farouk, to the best of parental monitoring, had never shown any attitude, conduct or association that would give concern.”
A senior U.S. official told ABC News that Abdulmutallab’s father told the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria his son had become radicalized and could pose a threat to the U.S.
More than 100 chat room posts traced to his e-mail account by ABC News show the course of his radicalization. In high school Abdulmutallab described himself as “very ambitious and determined.” He was concerned he would not get into college at Caltech, Stanford or Berkeley because of his test scores.
“I tried the SAT. It was a disaster!!! I didn’t practice well and I got 1200.” Abdulmutallab attended college in London between 2005 and 2008. He wrote of being lonely and sought friends online. “Can you be my friend?” he wrote. “I get lonely sometimes because I have never found a true Muslim friend.”
Later, he wrote of joining protests against the war in Iraq, asking “when is lying allowed to deceive the enemy?” Still later he wrote of heading to Yemen.
“The Obama administration has been admitting lately, that Yemen is the new Afghanistan,” said Clarke. “It is the new sanctuary. The new al Qaeda base, where people from around the world, who want to be trained are sent. No longer to Afghanistan, but to Yemen.”
Videos released by al Qaeda in 2010 showed Abdulmutallab and others in his training class in Yemen firing weapons at a desert camp whose targets included the Jewish star, the British Union Jack and the letters “UN.” The tape also included an apparent martyrdom statement in Arabic from the then 23-year old justifying his actions against “the Jews and the Christians and their agents.” He says, “the enemy is in your lands with their armies, the Jews and the Christians and their agents.” He reads several passages from the Koran and adds, “God said if you do not fight back, He will punish you and replace you.”
U.S. officials believe Abdulmutallab left Yemen in mid-December of 2009 on his suicide mission.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Eugene Scott, CNN
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