Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, convicted of attempting to bomb a Northwest Airlines plane on Christmas Day 2009 with explosives hidden in his underwear, was sentenced to life in prison.
The Nigerian-born defendant pleaded guilty in October to eight felony counts, including attempted murder and attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction.
U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds in Detroit yesterday sentenced him to life in prison on five counts and 20 years on three counts.
“This is an act of terrorism that cannot be quarreled with,” Edmunds said in court. The defendant “poses a significant ongoing threat to U.S. citizens everywhere.”
Abdulmutallab was accused of trying to detonate explosives in his underwear as Northwest Airlines Flight 253, with 279 passengers and 11 crew members, approached Detroit on Dec. 25, 2009. He set fire to his clothing and a wall before passengers subdued him.
The U.S. said Abdulmutallab traveled to Yemen to become involved in a violent jihad on behalf of al-Qaeda and practiced detonating explosives before the failed attack. The attack on the Northwest flight was masterminded by Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born Islamic cleric who was killed last year in an American missile attack in Yemen, prosecutors said.
The attempted bombing set off heightened security measures at U.S. airports. In January 2010 President Barack Obama ordered U.S. agencies to set clearer lines of responsibility for pursuing terrorism threats and to streamline criteria for adding names to government watch lists.
Abdulmutallab was on the government’s Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment list, which names about 550,000 individuals with possible terrorist links. He hadn’t been moved from this database to narrower terrorism watch lists including a “selectee” list of about 14,000 names that triggers additional screening at airports or to the “No Fly” list of about 4,000 names, U.S. officials said in 2010.
Abdulmutallab pleaded guilty Oct. 12 on the second day of trial. In a statement to the court that day, Abdulmutallab said he tried to bomb the plane as an act of retaliation against the U.S. for the “killing of my brothers and sisters in Muslim lands.”
The defendant, who represented himself, has said he “intentionally carried an explosive device” onto the plane, concealed in his underwear.
“God is great,” Abdulmutallab said in Arabic near the end of his sentencing yesterday, adding that he is “proud” to kill in the name of God.
The government sought the maximum sentences allowed on each of the counts, calling Abdulmutallab “an unrepentant would-be mass murderer” in its sentencing memorandum last week. “By his own words, defendant has shown that he continues to desire to harm the United States and its citizens, and that he views it as his religious obligation to do so.”
The defendant has never shown remorse for his actions and refers to the bomb as a “blessed weapon,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Cathleen Corken said at the sentencing yesterday.
Abdulmutallab engaged in a “cold-blooded, calculated plan to kill everyone aboard the plane,” she said. He failed in his mission only because the weapon failed, she said.
“His intention was to end our lives,” Lemare Mason, the Northwest flight attendant who put out the flames when Abdulmutallab tried to detonate the device, said at the hearing. Mason said he wakes up in night sweats because of the incident and has been in therapy.
The incident was “the most horrible moment of my life,” Shama Chopra, a passenger from Montreal, said at the hearing. Terrorists have wreaked havoc worldwide and need to be brought to justice, she said.
“Today is your turn,” she told the defendant.
The case is U.S. v. Abdulmutallab, 10-cr-20005, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Michigan (Detroit).