A Nigerian man charged with trying to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas 2009 told authorities in the hours after the attack that he was working for al-Qaida and offered details of his "mission, training and radicalization," prosecutors said in court documents filed Friday.
In a 20-page filing seeking a judge's permission to use the statements as evidence at the fall terrorism trial, the government said Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab made incriminating statements to U.S. customs agents at the plane and to FBI agents a few hours later at University of Michigan hospital, where he was being treated for severe burns.
U.S. officials in Washington have long said they believed Abdulmutallab was working for al-Qaida, but the court filing was the first time that prosecutors in Detroit publicly said he confessed to it.
Abdulmutallab, 24, is accused of trying to blow up Northwest Airlines Flight 253, which had nearly 300 people on board, seven minutes before arrival at Detroit Metropolitan Airport by igniting explosives in his underwear. He wants the statements thrown out because he was not read his Miranda rights against self-incrimination.
The government, however, said there's a long-established U.S. Supreme Court exception to Miranda if authorities believe there may be an immediate threat to public safety. A hearing is set for Sept. 14.
Abdulmutallab told U.S. Customs and Border Protection about his links to al-Qaida when officers met the plane at the gate, the U.S. attorney's office contends. The officers gave the information to FBI agents who met with Abdulmutallab for 50 minutes at the hospital, more than three hours after the plane had landed. The government said there was no coercion.
"Every question was directly related to identifying any other attackers and preventing another potential attack," the U.S. attorney's office wrote. "Defendant answered, providing details of his mission, training and radicalization, including his decision months earlier to become involved in violent jihad."
Abdulmutallab said he "intended to cause Flight 253 to crash, killing all persons on board," the government said.
Abdulmutallab was being treated with fentanyl, a strong painkiller, but hospital staff indicated it would not interfere with his ability to speak, the government said.
"The FBI agents who questioned defendant made no threats, displayed no weapons and offered no promises or inducements," prosecutors said.
Jury selection in the trial starts Oct. 4. Abdulmutallab is acting as his own lawyer with help from a Detroit defense attorney, Anthony Chambers.
On Thursday, Abdulmutallab filed handwritten documents with the court, claiming he was the victim of "excessive force" a day earlier at the federal prison in Milan, Mich., where he's being held. He said he "assaulted" several officers in his cell while defending his Islamic religion. Calls to the prison seeking comment were not answered.
Abdulmutallab also requested that he be judged by the Quran, the Muslim holy book, when in court. U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds said she'll address the issues on Sept. 14.
Separately on Friday, Edmunds set the ground rules for trial. She said Abdulmutallab can question witnesses and give opening and closing statements to jurors, or he can give the job to Chambers. She said she wants to know in advance.