'Underwear bomber' gets life in prison for 2009 airliner attack
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who hid a bomb in his underwear on a suicide mission for Al Qaeda, was sentenced Thursday to life in prison for his failed attempt to bring down a passenger airliner on Christmas Day 2009.
U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds imposed the mandatory sentence after rejecting a request from the defense that the sentence constituted cruel and unusual punishment because no one except Abdulmutallab was physically hurt in the incident.
Abdulmutallab, now 25, was born in Nigeria into a wealthy and privileged family. He boarded Northwest Airlines Flight 253 in the Netherlands on Christmas Day in 2009 en route to Michigan. The flight carried 279 passengers and 11 crew members.
Plastic explosives were hidden in his underwear. Witnesses said Abdulmutallab went into a bathroom, then returned to his seat, covering himself with a blanket. He apparently tried to detonate the explosives as the plane approached Detroit, but the device failed to explode properly.
Passengers seized Abdulmutallab, who was burned in the failed explosion.
Abdulmutallab later told government investigators that he was working for an Al Qaeda group run by Anwar Awlaki, an American Muslim cleric 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.
After Abdulmutallab was apprehended, the Obama administration initially argued the airport security “system had worked.” But days later, top officials, including Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, faced questions over whether Abdulmutallab should have been prevented from boarding the flight in Amsterdam.
Abdulmutallab's family had told CIA officers in Nigeria they believed he was coming under the influence of radical clerics. Abdulmutallab's name was entered into a database of more than 500,000 suspected terrorists, but was never investigated further and never made it to the so-called no-fly list.
There were also questions about how Abdulmutallab was able to bring the explosives on the plane. That has led to an increase in airport security.
-- Michael Muskal