By James B. Kelleher
DETROIT (Reuters) - The jury pool in the trial of a Nigerian man accused of trying to blow up a U.S. airliner on Christmas Day in 2009 was narrowed to 32 women and 15 men by the close of court on Wednesday
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, whose botched bombing led to a further tightening of U.S. aviation security, is charged with attempting to detonate explosives sewn into his underwear as Northwest Flight 253 approached Detroit from Amsterdam.
The device malfunctioned and burned Abdulmutallab, who was then overpowered by other passengers. He has been in U.S. custody ever since.
Al Qaeda's resurgent Yemen-based arm claimed responsibility for the failed 2009 attack, which was also praised by Osama bin Laden in 2010, months before the al Qaeda leader was killed in a U.S. commando raid in Pakistan.
Abdulmutallab, 24, is charged with eight felonies, including conspiracy to commit an act of terrorism, attempted murder and attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction. He faces life in prison if convicted.
Abdulmutallab had told U.S. investigators he received the bomb and training from al Qaeda militants in Yemen, U.S. officials have said, and the botched attack thrust Yemen to the forefront of U.S. security concerns.
Jury selection in the case began on Tuesday. The court will reconvene on Thursday and the defense and prosecution attorneys will begin to winnow the pool of 47 down to 12 jurors and 4 alternates who will be sworn in by late afternoon.
U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds will give the jury instructions for the trial next Tuesday, after the Columbus Day holiday. Opening statements will also start that day.
Abdulmutallab was wearing a black blazer on Wednesday over a tan ankle-length tunic with brown dress shoes and white athletic socks. He has been subdued and focused, and paid particular attention to the questioning of a Nigerian-born woman who remained in the jury pool on Wednesday.
So far, 21 jurors have been excused in two days of questioning. The trial, which is taking place under high security inside the Theodore Levin U.S. Courthouse in downtown Detroit, is expected to last a month.
One issue raised Wednesday was the role to be played by Anthony Chambers, Abdulmutallab's standby attorney, appointed to the court because the London-educated Nigerian is unfamiliar with the U.S. judicial system.
Since he is acting as his own lawyer, Abdulmutallab is supposed to preserve control over his case. So Jonathan Tukel, one of the U.S. prosecutors, took issue with a conference that Chambers held with Edmunds on Wednesday out of earshot of a potential juror without involving Abdulmutallab or getting his express consent.
Chambers meanwhile objected to the way U.S. Marshals were carefully shadowing Abdulmutallab any time he moves around the heavily guarded courtroom, which Chambers said would prejudice the jury against the defendant if he approached the bench for conferences. Edmunds said future sidebar conferences would be held with the jury out of the courtroom.
Several jurors expressed concern about Abdulmutallab's decision to represent himself.
"I think if I were in trouble, I'd want somebody who knows the law," an unemployed tool and die worker said. But the worker, who was in the final pool Wednesday, said he wouldn't be more sympathetic to the defendant because of the decision.
(Additional reporting by Meghana Keshavan; Editing by Mary Wisniewski, Greg McCune and Cynthia Johnston)