DETROIT — A federal judge ordered life in prison Thursday for a Nigerian Muslim who turned away from a privileged life and tried to blow up a packed international flight with a bomb concealed in his underwear.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who was on a suicide mission for al Qaeda, was the same defiant man who four months ago pleaded guilty to all charges related to Northwest Airlines Flight 253. He seemed to relish his mandatory sentence and defended his actions as rooted in the Koran.
"Mujahideen are proud to kill in the name of God. And that is exactly what God told us to do in the Koran," he said. "Today is a day of victory."
Earlier, four passengers and a crew member who were aboard the plane told U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds that the event forever changed their lives. Abdulmutallab appeared disinterested during their remarks, rarely looking up while seated just a few feet away in a white skull cap and oversized prison T-shirt.
Abdulmutallab "has never expressed doubt or regret or remorse about his mission," Judge Edmunds said. "In contrast, he sees that mission as divinely inspired and a continuing mission."
Life in prison is a "just punishment for what he has done," the judge said. "The defendant poses a significant ongoing threat to the safety of American citizens everywhere."
The 25-year-old, European-educated son of a wealthy banker told the government that he trained in Yemen under the eye of Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical American-born Muslim cleric and one of the best-known al Qaeda figures. Al-Awlaki and the bomb maker were killed in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen last year just days before Abdulmutallab's trial. At the time, President Obama publicly blamed al-Awlaki for the terrorism plot.
Abdulmutallab attempted to detonate a bomb on the Amsterdam-to-Detroit flight but the device failed and severely burned him. He quickly confessed after being taken from the plane in custody.
The judge allowed prosecutors to show a video of the FBI demonstrating the power of the explosive material found in his underwear. As the video played, Abdulmutallab twice said loudly, "Allahu akbar," Arabic for "God is great" and a standard Muslim prayer.
Lemare Mason, a Detroit-based flight attendant who helped put out the flames, told the judge that he suffers night sweats and his "dream job" no longer is a "joy."
Anthony Chambers, an attorney assigned to help Abdulmutallab, said a mandatory life sentence was cruel and unconstitutional punishment for a crime that didn't physically hurt anyone except Abdulmutallab. In reply, the government said plenty of harm had been done.
"Unsuccessful terrorist attacks still engender fear in the broader public, which, after all, is one of their main objectives," prosecutors said in a court filing before sentencing.
The case also had lasting implications for security screening at American airports. Abdulmutallab's ability to defeat security in Amsterdam contributed to the deployment of full-body scanners at U.S. airports.
The Transportation Security Administration was using the scanners in some American cities at the time, but the attack accelerated their placement. There are now hundreds of the devices nationwide.