Jury selection resumes in attempted Christmas Day plane bombing

Reuters News
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Posted: Oct 05, 2011 8:33 AM
Jury selection resumes in attempted Christmas Day plane bombing

By James B. Kelleher

DETROIT (Reuters) - Jury selection was scheduled to resume on Wednesday in the trial of the Nigerian man accused of trying to blow up a U.S. airliner on Christmas Day 2009.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, whose attempted 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 of the botched suicide bombing.

On Tuesday, the first day of jury selection, 27 potential jurors were questioned by the judge, the prosecution and the standby lawyer appointed to assist Abdulmutallab, who insists he wants to represent himself at trail.

Of those, 16 women and four men made the preliminary grade while seven others were excused.

U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds said she wants to assemble a pool of between 37 and 45 potential jurors over the next few days and to pick a final panel of 12 jurors and four alternates by Thursday afternoon.

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.

Opening arguments are scheduled to start October 11.

Edmunds, the attorneys, and at one point Abdulmutallab himself on Tuesday quizzed potential jurors, many of whom had expressed concern in a questionnaire about their safety if they were picked for the panel.

Abdulmutallab, who studied at University College, London, rose and asked one juror, who said she worried about people who might be "waiting in the wings outside the courthouse," what she meant.

Did she not agree that an angry reaction might follow a "not guilty" verdict as well as a "guilty" verdict?

She did -- and neither side dismissed her from the pool.

The first day of jury selection was otherwise fairly routine.

The exception came at the very start of the day, before any potential jurors were in the room, when Abdulmutallab called the United States a "cancer" and blurted out "Anwar is alive," an apparent reference to al Qaeda cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who was linked to the defendant and killed by a U.S. drone attack in Yemen last week.

(Additional reporting by Meghana Keshavan; Editing by Jerry Norton)