Christmas Day bomb plot suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in court.
The Nigerian at the centre of the Christmas Day bomb plot made his first appearance in a US federal court yesterday to be charged with the attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction, for which he could face up to 90 years in jail.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was due to appear in court in Detroit as conservatives stepped up criticism of the decision to try him in a civilian court rather than before a military tribunal.
President Obama’s chief counter-terrorism adviser, John Brennan, has hinted that a plea bargain could be offered to persuade Mr Abdulmutallab to reveal details of al-Qaeda networks and conspiracies that he may have learnt about in Yemen.
Yesterday Rudy Giuliani, the mayor of New York at the time of the September 2001 attacks, condemned the approach as impractical. “If you put someone in a civilian court, within a short period of time a lawyer is appointed and the person shuts up,” he told ABC News. “If you have a person in the military system you can question him endlessly.”
Mr Abdulmutallab’s father, who has been hailed as a hero in the US for reporting concerns about his son to the American Embassy in Nigeria, was not expected at yesterday’s hearing even though he may never see his son at liberty again.
The charge of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction — in this case the explosives sewn into his underpants — has been added to the case against him since officials first filed a criminal complaint on Christmas Day. It raises Mr Abdulmutallab’s potential jail term from 20 to 90 years.
He is being represented at taxpayers’ expense by a team of lawyers led by Miriam Siefer, a highly regarded public defender with long experience of ensuring that unpopular clients receive due process.
She represented James Nichols when he was a suspect along with his brother, Terry Nichols, in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, and has worked on several previous cases involving disturbances on Northwest Airlines flights landing in Detroit.
Even though Mr Abdulmutallab’s alleged crime took place in front of hundreds of witnsses, analysts expected him to enter a not guilty plea. “A person who wants to blow himself up in an airplane is not looking to shave time off in the big house,” one former Guantánamo Bay prosecutor said. “I have no doubt he will welcome the world stage of a federal courtroom.”
Two more men were arrested in the US yesterday in connection with an alleged plot to bomb New York last year.
The men — named as Adis Medunjanin and Zasrein Ahmedzay — were said to be associates of an Afghan-born Colorado man, Najibullah Zazi, who is accused of planning an attack on New York commuters. Mr Zazi and two other men are awaiting trial. They pleaded not guilty after being charged in September.
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