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'Underwear bomber' pleads guilty to trying to blow up U.S. jet

October 12, 2011 |  9:11 am

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the so-called underwear bomber, has pleaded guilty to trying to blow up an international flight heading for Detroit
The federal trial of the so-called underwear bomber came to an abrupt halt on Wednesday when the defendant, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, pleaded guilty to charges of trying to blow up an international flight heading for Detroit.

Abdulmutallab entered his plea to all eight felony counts before U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds, court spokesman Rod Hansen said in a telephone interview. Edmunds set sentencing in the case for Jan. 12. The Nigerian faces a sentence of life in prison on the charges, which include conspiracy to  commit an act of terrorism, attempted murder and attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction.

The defendant had been serving as his own counsel with the help of a lawyer, and Edmunds questioned him on his competence to enter a guilty plea and to ensure that the constitutional rights process was met, Hansen said. 

"Are you therefore pleading guilty freely and voluntarily?" Edmunds asked.

"That's right, yes," Abdulmutallab replied, according to media reports from the courthouse.

Abdulmutallab was charged with attempting to blow up Northwest Airlines Flight 253 with a bomb in his underwear on Christmas 2009.

The bomb failed to detonate properly, and passengers then seized Abdulmutallab, who was burned in the incident, amid smoke and fire.

Abdulmutallab later told government investigators that he was working for an Al Qaeda group run by Anwar Awlaki, an American Muslim cleric recently killed in Yemen by U.S. and Yemeni forces. Awlaki's alleged role in the airline incident was one of the rationales for the U.S. attack on the cleric, who was never convicted in a U.S. court.

In his statement to the judge, Abdulmutallab, 24, answered each count of the charges with a long commentary, explaining what he did and why he did not consider the attack to be violation of the Koran, Hansen said.

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-- Michael Muskal

Photo: In a courtroom drawing, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab sits next to Anthony Chambers, a lawyer who was assisting in his defense on terrorism charges. Credit: Jerry Lemenu / Associated Press 

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