Despite the worldwide hype about attempted attack, legal experts say case could be short and uneventful
BY BEN SCHMITT and DAVID ASHENFELTER – FREE PRESS STAFF WRITERS
Terrorism suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab will get his day in court Friday when he is to be arraigned on a six-count federal indictment that could bring him a life-plus prison sentence.
The grand jury indictment, filed Wednesday in Detroit, charged the 23-year-old Nigerian national with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction to destroy a Netherlands-to-Detroit jetliner with a homemade bomb sewn into his underwear as it prepared to land Dec. 25.
“This investigation is fast-paced, global and ongoing, and it has already yielded valuable intelligence that we will follow wherever it leads,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement Wednesday. “Anyone we find responsible for this alleged attack will be brought to justice using every tool — military or judicial — available to our government.”
There was no immediate comment from the Federal Defender Office in Detroit, which is representing Abdulmutallab.
Abdulmutallab, the son of a wealthy Nigerian banker, is in custody at a federal prison in Milan, near Ann Arbor.
The bomb plot, on Northwest Flight 253, raised security restrictions at airports worldwide and reminded Americans that they still are vulnerable to terror attacks.
Federal prosecutors and court officials in Detroit have been deluged with worldwide media inquiries about Friday’s scheduled arraignment.
But for all the buildup, the hearing could turn out to be a routine two-minute court appearance where Abdulmutallab may stand mute to the charges and be quickly hustled by marshals back to the federal prison in Milan, near Ann Arbor. Cameras won’t be allowed in the courthouse.
Prosecutors wouldn’t be required to present more evidence unless Abdulmutallab’s lawyers at the Federal Defender Office request a detention hearing. That’s unlikely because Abdulmutallab isn’t in the U.S. legally and would immediately be detained by U.S. immigration authorities if a judge released him.
Also unclear is whether there will be a post-arraignment hearing on prosecutors’ request to obtain a DNA sample from Abdulmutallab. His lawyers have opposed it, but legal experts have said prosecutors can obtain the evidence through a search warrant.
Department of Justice Press Release
For Immediate Release
January 6, 2010 – U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Public Affairs
(202) 514-2007/TDD (202) 514-1888
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab Indicted for Attempted Bombing of Flight 253 on Christmas Day
Defendant Faces Life in Prison if Convicted
WASHINGTON—The Justice Department announced that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old Nigerian national, was charged today in a six-count criminal indictment returned in the Eastern District of Michigan for his alleged role in the attempted Christmas day bombing of Northwest Airlines flight 253 from Amsterdam, the Netherlands, to Detroit.
Count one of the indictment charges Abdulmutallab with attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction, which carries a penalty of up to life in prison. Count two of the indictment charges him with attempted murder within the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States, which carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison. Count three of the indictment charges him with willful attempt to destroy or wreck an aircraft within the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States, which carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison. Count four of the indictment charges Abdulmutallab with willfully placing a destructive device on an aircraft within the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States, which was likely to endanger the safety of such aircraft. This violation carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison. Count five of the indictment charges him with use of a firearm/destructive device during and in relation to a crime of violence, which carries a consecutive mandatory 30 years in prison. Count six of the indictment charges the defendant with possession of a firearm/destructive device in furtherance of a crime of violence, which carries a consecutive mandatory 30 years in prison.
“The charges that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab faces could imprison him for life,” said Attorney General Eric Holder. “This investigation is fast-paced, global and ongoing, and it has already yielded valuable intelligence that we will follow wherever it leads. Anyone we find responsible for this alleged attack will be brought to justice using every tool—military or judicial—available to our government.”
“The attempted murder of 289 innocent people merits the most serious charges available, and that’s what we have charged in this indictment,” said U.S. Attorney Barbara L. McQuade, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan.
According to the indictment, Northwest Airlines flight 253 carried 279 passengers and 11 crewmembers. Abdulmutallab allegedly boarded Northwest Airlines flight 253 in Amsterdam on Dec. 25, 2009 carrying a concealed bomb. The bomb components included Pentaerythritol (also known as PETN, a high explosive), as well as Triacetone Triperoxide (also known as TATP, a high explosive), and other ingredients.
The bomb was concealed in the defendant’s clothing and was designed to allow him to detonate it at a time of his choosing, thereby causing an explosion aboard flight 253, according to the indictment. Shortly prior to landing at Detroit Metropolitan Airport, Abdulmutallab detonated the bomb, causing a fire on board flight 253.
According to an affidavit filed in support of a criminal complaint, Abdulmutallab was subdued and restrained by the passengers and flight crew after detonating the bomb. The airplane landed shortly thereafter, and he was taken into custody by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers. Abdulmutallab required medical treatment, and was transported to the University of Michigan Medical Center after the plane landed.
This prosecution is being handled by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan, with assistance from the Counterterrorism Section of the Justice Department’s National Security Division.
The investigation is being conducted by the Detroit Joint Terrorism Task Force, which is led by the FBI and includes U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Federal Air Marshal Service, and other law enforcement agencies. Additional assistance has been provided by the Transportation Security Administration, the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security, the Wayne County Airport police, as well as international law enforcement partners.
The public is reminded that an indictment contains mere allegations and a defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.