Would-be bomber gets life sentence in 'day of victory'
DETROIT -- A federal judge ordered life in prison Thursday for a young Nigerian man who turned away from a privileged life and tried to blow up a packed international flight with a bomb concealed in his underwear.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab has said he was on a suicide mission for al-Qaida. Four months ago, he pleaded guilty to all charges related to Northwest Airlines Flight 253. He defended his actions as rooted in the Muslim holy book, the Quran.
"Mujahideen are proud to kill in the name of God. And that is exactly what God told us to do in the Quran," he said. "Today is a day of victory."
Earlier, four passengers and a crew member who were aboard the plane told U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds that the event forever changed their lives. Abdulmutallab appeared disinterested during their remarks, rarely looking up while seated just a few feet away in a white skull cap and oversized prison T-shirt.
Abdulmutallab "has never expressed doubt or regret or remorse about his mission," Edmunds said. "In contrast, he sees that mission as divinely inspired and a continuing mission."
Life in prison is a "just punishment for what he has done," the judge said. "The defendant poses a significant ongoing threat to the safety of American citizens everywhere."
Abdulmutallab, the 25-year-old, European-educated son of a wealthy banker, told the government that he trained in Yemen under the eye of Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical American-born cleric and one of the best-known al-Qaida figures.
He chose to detonate a bomb on the Amsterdam-to-Detroit flight but the device failed and badly burned him. He quickly confessed after he was hauled off the plane.
The judge allowed prosecutors to show a video of the FBI demonstrating the power of the explosive material found in his underwear. As the video played, Abdulmutallab twice said loudly, "Allahu akbar," meaning God is great.
Lemare Mason, a Detroit-based flight attendant who helped put out the flames, told the judge that he suffers night sweats and his "dream job" no longer is a "joy."
Theophilus Maranga, a New York lawyer who was a passenger, was disgusted by Abdulmutallab's continued references to religion as justification.
"What kind of God is that? God is peace-loving," Maranga said in court, adding that he prays daily for Abdulmutallab.
Abdulmutallab's mentor, Al-Awlaki, and the bomb maker were killed in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen last year, 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 last week.
Anthony Chambers, an attorney assigned to help Abdulmutallab, said a mandatory life sentence was cruel and unconstitutional punishment for a crime that didn't physically hurt anyone except Abdulmutallab. In reply, the government said plenty of harm had been done.
"Unsuccessful terrorist attacks still engender fear in the broader public, which, after all, is one of their main objectives," prosecutors said in a court filing before sentencing.
Indeed, Alain Ghonda, a consultant from Silver Spring, Md., who was a passenger on Flight 253, said he travels the globe with heightened awareness since the failed attack.
"After having that experience, you do not know who's sitting next to you," Ghonda said before Thursday's hearing. "They may look like passengers, but they might want to harm you."
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.