DETROIT (AP) — Calling it a “just punishment,” a federal judge ordered life in prison Thursday for a Nigerian man who turned away from a privileged life and tried to blow up an international jetliner with nearly 300 people during a suicide mission for al-Qaida.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was the same defiant man who four months ago pleaded guilty to all charges related to the attempted destruction of Northwest Airlines Flight 253 with a bomb in his underwear on Christmas 2009. He seemed to relish his mandatory sentence and defended his actions as rooted in the Muslim holy book, the Quran.
Earlier, four passengers and a crew member aboard Flight 253 told U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds that the event forever changed their lives. Abdulmutallab looked disinterested during their remarks — he rarely looked up while seated just a few feet away, wearing a white skull cap and an 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, a 25-year-old who was educated in Europe and is the son of a wealthy Nigerian 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.
“Mujahideen are proud to kill in the name of God. And that is exactly what God told us to do in the Quran. … Today is a day of victory,” Abdulmutallab said in court.
The judge allowed prosecutors to show a video of the FBI demonstrating the power of the explosive material found in his underwear. Abdulmutallab twice said loudly, “Allahu akbar,” which means God is great.
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 there was plenty of hurt.
“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, 40, 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.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.