The trial begins today of 24 year old Nigerian, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, accused of trying to blow up a packed airliner bound for the US on Christmas Day in 2009.
According to agency reports, jurors are to be selected this week before Abdulmutallab contests charges that he tried to kill nearly 300 people aboard a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.
The trial will be closely watched, as it comes three days after the killing of al-Qa’ida kingpin Anwar al-Awlaqi in a US airstrike in Yemen. American intelligence officials have repeatedly linked the US-born cleric to the Christmas Day operation.
The prospects of courtroom drama are high with Abdulmutallab, having fired his lawyers and insisted on representing himself. Finding jurors who say they are able to consider the evidence impartially could prove difficult.
The Christmas Day plot was foiled when explosives stitched into Abdulmutallab’s underpants failed to detonate and caused only a small fire, allowing passengers and crew members to restrain him.
The botched operation triggered global alarm and led the US to adopt stringent new screening and security measures.
The reputation of the nation’s intelligence services also took a hit because Abdulmutallab’s father, a prominent Nigerian banker, had warned the CIA about his son’s growing Islamic radicalisation.
Judge Nancy Edmunds has repeatedly urged Abdulmutallab to let a lawyer argue his case and has appointed “standby counsel” to help him prepare.
While he accepted some help, Abdulmutallab insisted he will make his own opening statement and will question witnesses during what is expected to be a week-long trial.
At a pre-trial hearing on Tuesday, Judge Edmunds dismissed Abdulmutallab’s objection to the prosecution’s request to show jurors his martyrdom video.
Jurors will also be shown a reproduction of the underwear Abdulmutallab allegedly wore on the day of the incident.
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