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Accused Underpants Bomber Statements Admissible, Judge Rules

Statements by the man accused of the Christmas 2009 attempt to blow up a Northwest Airlines plane with explosives hidden in his underpants can be introduced by U.S. prosecutors at trial, a judge said.

The defendant, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, said agents improperly questioned him in a hospital while he was under the influence of the painkiller fentanyl and that they failed to read him his rights. He asked U.S. District Judge Nancy G. Edmunds in Detroit to exclude the statements he made to federal agents after being taken into custody.

The U.S. said that Abdulmutallab wasn’t impaired by drugs and that concerns for public safety required agents to question him immediately, before advising him of his rights. Edmunds today agreed, rejecting Abdulmutallab’s motion.

Abdulmutallab was “coherent and knew what he was saying,” Edmunds said today at a hearing. The agents were justified in not telling Abdulmutallab he had the right to remain silent because of national security concerns, she said.

Anthony Chambers, Abdulmutallab’s standby counsel, didn’t immediately return calls for comment. Abdulmutallab fired his court-appointed attorneys last year and is representing himself. He’s being aided by Chambers, a Detroit lawyer appointed by the court, who has filed pretrial motions on the defendant’s behalf and questioned witnesses at the hearing.

Approaching Detroit

Northwest Airlines Flight 253, carrying 279 passengers and 11 crew members, originated in Amsterdam and was approaching Detroit on Dec. 25, 2009, when Abdulmutallab tried to detonate the explosives, prosecutors said. He set fire to his clothing and a wall before passengers subdued him, prosecutors said.

Abdulmutallab, a 24-year-old native of Nigeria, faces eight criminal counts, including conspiracy to commit an act of terrorism, attempted murder and attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction. He pleaded not guilty and faces a possible life sentence if convicted.

His trial is set for Oct. 4. Jury selection began yesterday with Edmunds giving about 250 prospective jurors a questionnaire.

Abdulmutallab told U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers immediately following the airplane incident that “he had detonated an explosive device hidden in his underwear, and that he had been acting on behalf of al-Qaeda,” prosecutors said Aug. 26in court papers.

Pain Medicine

Abdulmutallab was sent to a hospital at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where he was treated for burns and given fentanyl, the U.S. said. FBI agents were assured by medical staff that the amount of the painkiller he received “would not render him incommunicative or unable to understand them,” the government said.

Investigators didn’t tell Abdulmutallab before questioning that he had a right to remain silent because they feared he was part of a coordinated plot by al-Qaeda, Timothy Waters of the Federal Bureau of Investigation testified yesterday at a hearing before Edmunds.

“We had to find out who he was in contact with,” Waters said. “We felt there were other planes in the air with suicide bombers.”

The case is U.S. v. Abdulmutallab, 10-cr-20005, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Michigan (Detroit).

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