A Nigerian man on a suicide mission for al-Qaidawas sentenced Thursday to life in prison forattempting to blow up an international flight witha bomb in his underwear as the plane approachedDetroit on Christmas 2009.
The mandatory punishment for Umar FaroukAbdulmutallab, the well-educated son of a wealthybanker, was never in doubt after he surprised thecourtroom and pleaded guilty to all charges on thesecond day of trial last fall.
Abdulmutallab sat with his hands folded under hischin, leaning back in his chair as the sentencewas announced.
In October, Abdulmutallab said the bomb in hisunderwear was a "blessed weapon" to avenge poorlytreated Muslims around the world. It failed tofully detonate aboard an Amsterdam-to-Detroitflight but caused a brief fire that badly burnedhis groin. Passengers pounced on Abdulmutallab andforced him to the front of Northwest AirlinesFlight 253 where he was held until the planelanded minutes later.
Abdulmutallab, 25, talked freely to the FBI abouthis desire to commit martyrdom for his Islamicfaith. In 2009, months before the attack, hetraveled to Yemen in a desperate bid to see Anwaral-Awlaki, an American-born cleric and one of thebest-known al-Qaida figures, according to thegovernment. He told investigators that his missionwas approved after a three-day visit with hismentor.
Al-Awlaki and the bomb maker were killed in aU.S.drone strike in Yemen last year, just days beforeAbdulmutallab's trial. At the time, PresidentBarack Obama publicly blamed al-Awlaki for theterrorism plot.
Abdulmutallab is an "unrepentant would-be massmurderer who views his crimes as divinely inspiredand blessed, and who views himself as under acontinuing obligation to carry out such crimes,"prosecutors said in a court filing last week.
Anthony Chambers, an attorney assigned to helpAbdulmutallab, said a mandatory life sentence wascruel and unconstitutional punishment for a crimethat didn't physically hurt anyone exceptAbdulmutallab. In reply, the government said therewas plenty of hurt.
"Unsuccessful terrorist attacks still engenderfear in the broader public, which, after all, isone of their main objectives," prosecutors said ina court filing before sentencing.
Indeed, Alain Ghonda, a consultant from SilverSpring, Md., who was a passenger on Flight 253,said he travels the globe with heightenedawareness since the failed attack."After having that experience, you do not knowwho's sitting next to you," Ghonda, 40, saidbefore Thursday's hearing. "They may look likepassengers, but they might want to harm you."The case also had lasting implications forsecurity screening at American airports.Abdulmutallab's ability to defeat security inAmsterdam contributed to the deployment of full-body scanners at U.S. airports.The Transportation Security Administration wasusing the scanners in some American cities at thetime, but the attack accelerated their placement.There are now hundreds of the devices nationwide.