Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the privileged son of a wealthy Nigerian banker, returns to federal court in Detroit on Thursday to receive a mandatory life sentence for trying to blow up Northwest Airlines Flight 253, four months after pleading guilty and admitting it was a suicide mission for al-Qaida.His lawyers are trying to argue that a life sentence is unconstitutional because he didn't succeed in carrying out the attack that was intended to blow up the plane and all those on board. That argument is a last-ditch attempt to avoid life in prison and it's not likely to work. Mutallab is expected to also give a statement, and I'd expect that he'll use the opportunity to once again rail against the American justice system, the US in general, and to reaffirm his support for jihad.
The hearing is an open platform for passengers and crew who want to speak, but only five of nearly 300 are expected to address the court, according to the government.
Abdulmutallab, 25, tried to detonate explosive chemicals that were hidden in his underwear minutes before the plane landed at Detroit Metropolitan Airport. The government says he first performed a ritual in the lavatory — brushing his teeth and perfuming himself — and returned to his seat. The device didn't work as planned, but still produced flame, smoke and panic in the cabin.
"I've become bolder. I've become stronger," said passenger Shama Chopra, 56, of Montreal, who plans to speak in court. She ran unsuccessfully for the Canadian Parliament in 2011, a race she couldn't have imagined joining years ago.
"I don't have to feel weak," Chopra said in an interview Wednesday. "I don't have to be scared of anything. God has given me a second chance to live."
On the second day of the trial in October, Abdulmutallab suddenly pleaded guilty to all charges. In a defiant speech, he said he was carrying a "blessed weapon" to avenge Muslims who have been killed or poorly treated around the world. He admitted he was inspired by Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical American-born cleric and leading al-Qaida figure in Yemen who was killed by a U.S. drone strike last fall.
"The Quran obliges every able Muslim to participate in jihad and fight in the way of Allah those who fight you, and kill them wherever you find them ... an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth," Abdulmutallab said.
Yet, that's not the most bizarre part of today's hearing. Among the five people who are testifying today is a passenger, Kurt Haskell, who has been blogging that the terrorist was conspiring with the US government so as to pave the way for full-body scanners to be installed at airports.