DETROIT — The young Nigerian on a terrorist mission for al Qaeda prayed, washed and put on perfume moments before trying to detonate a bomb in his underwear to bring down an international jetliner on Christmas 2009, a prosecutor told jurors as the man's trial opened Tuesday.
The first day of the trial of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab brought to light new details of one of the most deadly terrorist plots since President Obama took office, and one that was just barely thwarted.
Virtually everyone aboard Northwest Airlines Flight 253 had holiday plans, but Mr. Abdulmutallab believed his calling was martyrdom, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Tukel said.
In the plane's bathroom, "he was engaging in rituals. He was preparing to die and enter heaven," Mr. Tukel said. "He purified himself. He washed. He brushed his teeth. He put on perfume. He was praying and perfuming himself to get ready to die."
After returning to his seat, Mr. Abdulmutallab pushed a syringe plunger into the chemical bomb in his underwear, an action that produced a "pop," the prosecutor told jurors.
The bomb didn't work as planned but Mr. Abdulmutallab was engulfed in flames, said Mr. Tukel, who displayed the flight's seating chart on a screen to show jurors where things happened on the plane.
The day's first and only witness, passenger Mike Zantow of Madison, Wisc., said Mr. Abdulmutallab went to the bathroom for 10 to 15 minutes, then returned and put a blanket over himself. Mr. Zantow heard the "pop" and said another passenger remarked, "Hey, dude, your pants are on fire."
Prosecutors delivered their opening statements after an unexplained 70-minute recess requested by Mr. Abdulmutallab and his attorney, Anthony Chambers, shortly after they entered the courtroom.
Mr. Chambers later informed the judge that he would waive his opening statement until later in the trial, a decision that came as somewhat of a surprise. Mr. Chambers had just last week persuaded Mr. Abdulmutallab, 24, not to give his own statement even though the Nigerian national technically is acting as his own lawyer.
Earlier, Mr. Chambers had asked the judge to ban the word "bomb" or "explosive" from being used in the trial until final arguments, saying it's up to the jury to decide what caused the smoke and fire.
"I'm going to deny that motion. ... It makes no sense whatsoever," U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds said.
Mr. Abdulmutallab is relying on Mr. Chambers to handle the minute-by-minute work in the courtroom, meaning jurors are likely to see a more focused defense and not a wild justification for trying to bring down the Amsterdam-to-Detroit flight with 290 people aboard.
Mr. Abdulmutallab has written a few court filings in his own hand, including a request to be judged by Islamic law. He has at times appeared agitated in court, declaring that Osama bin Laden and a radical Muslim cleric recently killed by the U.S. in Yemen are still alive. He also has objected to trial testimony from experts who will talk about al Qaeda and martyrdom.