- Trial of Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab opened Tuesday
- Prosecutors: He was recruited in Yemen and picked for a bombing mission
- AbdulMutallab tried repeatedly to buy U.S. plane tickets, they say
- Evidence points to help from a bomb maker, prosecutors say
To those who knew him before he became known as the "underwear bomber," Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab was a quiet, religious man. So how did the son of a prominent Nigerian banker with a graduate degree in engineering allegedly decide to wage holy war?
Federal prosecutors on Tuesday gave a 90-minute opening statement in the trial of AbdulMutallab, outlining a path that they say led to the Christmas Day 2009 incident aboard a Detroit-bound airliner, which he is accused of trying to blow up with a device concealed in his underwear.
He was indicted on charges of attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction, conspiracy to commit an act of terrorism and possession of a firearm or destructive device in furtherance of an act of violence.
Inspired by jihadist preacher Anwar al-Awlaki, the now 24-year-old student set off for Yemen in the summer of 2009, allegedly telling FBI agents he wanted to find al Qaeda and "become involved in violent jihad against the U.S." Once there, prosecutors say, he was recruited in a mosque by a man calling himself Abu Tarak. Together the men would talk daily, prosecutors say, about "jihad, martyrdom, al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden."
Prosecutors said that in early November 2009, AbdulMutallab's handler devised a plan for him to target a U.S. passenger plane. Abu Tarak allegedly told the young Nigerian he would be given a device built by a Saudi bomb maker that he would conceal in his underwear. AbdulMutallab could choose any plane he wanted, but two conditions were that it had to be an American carrier, and the bomb had to be detonated inside the United States.
For al Qaeda operatives, prosecutors said, AbdulMutallab was the perfect candidate: fluent in English, a world traveler with a valid U.S. passport and visa and a father who owned a bank in Nigeria, reportedly making $150,000 a month.
On December 6 or 7, 2009, having trained, practiced and recorded a martyrdom video, AbdulMutallab received the bomb, prosecutors says. He then set out on his journey. Traveling from Yemen to Ghana, he tried buying numerous tickets to the United States, searching flights to Houston, Chicago, and California. When that proved unsuccessful, he instead flew to Nigeria and on to Amsterdam, where he boarded a Delta-Northwest flight bound for Detroit. Prosecutors say that from the time he left Yemen to the time he flew into Detroit, he was wearing the underwear bomb.
According to prosecutors, the explosive device had three distinct components: a chemical-filled syringe, triacetone triperoxide (TATP) and pentaerythritol tetranitrate (PETN). TATP and PETN are compounds that have reportedly been used in previous al Qaeda plots. The syringe was filled with two ordinary chemicals (one similar to antifreeze) which when mixed together would cause a fire. That fire would then ignite the TATP, causing the PETN in AbdulMutallab's underwear to explode.
Prosecutors plan to call bomb experts to testify that while the TATP did ignite the PETN causing it to burn, it did not spark the kind of explosion anticipated by the bomb-maker.
On December 25, 2009 as Delta-Northwest Flight 253 crossed into U.S. airspace, AbdulMutallab took a small resealable plastic bag from his carry-on filled with toiletries and went to the bathroom. Prosecutors say he was ritually purifying himself by washing, brushing his teeth and cleansing himself with a kind of perfume. He had not eaten or had anything to drink, suggesting he was fasting.
Returning to his seat, AbdulMutallab pulled the blanket over his head, telling the passenger next to him that he was sick and wanted to rest. Moments later, the first of several witnesses testified on Tuesday that there was a firecracker-like explosion, the man next to him repeatedly saying, "Your pants are on fire."
That's when other passengers reacted, subduing AbdulMutallab while flight attendants grabbed extinguishers to put out the fire.
AbdulMutallab allegedly told a paramedic who treated his burns, "They told me to push the syringe into the stitching."
Among the pieces of evidence which prosecutors say suggest a conspiracy involving additional people were a fingerprint on the tape used to wrap the syringe that only the "bomb maker could have put there" and an encryption code on a slip of paper giving him access to an al Qaeda site. Prosecutors say that suggested "he must have planned to communicate with someone."
The prosecution says it plans to call numerous witnesses and experts to testify about the chaos that ensued, introducing statements the defendant made shortly after he was taken into custody. AbdulMutallab, who is representing himself, did not make an opening statement.