Underwear bomb suspect starts trial with defiant words

Participated in jury selection

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DETROIT — A Nigerian man accused of trying to bring down a jetliner with a bomb in his underwear made a defiant political outburst Tuesday, demonstrating again why his courtroom behavior will be watched closely throughout the trial.

“The mujahadeen will wipe out the U.S. - the cancer U.S.,” said Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, scowling as he referred to Muslim guerrilla fighters.

Mr. Abdulmutallab, a well-educated man from a wealthy African family, has spent two years in custody and rarely causes a ripple in court. But Tuesday’s outburst was his second in two weeks.

When marshals removed his handcuffs, he proclaimed “Anwar is alive,” referring to radical Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed last week by a U.S. airstrike in Yemen.

The government says Mr. Abdulmutallab’s attack on Northwest Airlines Flight 253 was directed by al-Awlaki. In September, he made a reference in court to slain al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, calling him a “hero,” and he complained about his prison clothes.

The 24-year-old is charged in federal court with trying to destroy the Amsterdam-to-Detroit flight on Christmas 2009. He has pleaded not guilty, and his trial is expected to last three or four weeks.

Prospective jurors were questioned one by one, and most were told to return Thursday for inclusion in the final pool of 37 to 45 people.

Mr. Abdulmutallab, who is acting as his own lawyer, briefly questioned a potential juror, who expressed concern about people possibly “waiting in the wings outside the courthouse,” no matter the verdict.

“There could be people who would be angry and want to retaliate?” he asked.

“Yes,” she replied.

There was no good indication how active Mr. Abdulmutallab will be when witnesses begin testifying next week. On Tuesday, he rarely looked up from the defense table and deferred most questions to Anthony Chambers, his court-appointed standby attorney. He wrote or read and quietly talked to Mr. Chambers about whether to request that a jury candidate be excused.

U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds reminded him that appearances are important. She firmly recommended that he not wear jail clothes and instead put on something that would make a “better impression on jurors,” at least a shirt with buttons to replace an oversized white T-shirt.

Mr. Abdulmutallab asked whether he could wear a traditional Yemeni belt with a dagger, a request the judge swiftly denied. He returned with a dark pinstriped suit coat over a full-length tunic, with a black skull cap.

Mr. Abdulmutallab has pleaded not guilty to eight charges, including conspiracy to commit terrorism and attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction. The government says he intended to blow up the plane by detonating chemicals in his underwear just seven minutes before the jet carrying 279 passengers and a crew of 11 was to land at Detroit Metropolitan Airport.

The bomb failed, and passengers assisted by crew members saw flames and pounced on Mr. Abdulmutallab. It was the first terrorist act in the U.S. during the Obama administration.

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