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Jury selection to begin in Christmas Day bombing trial

Booking photograph of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab from the US Marshals Service
Booking photograph of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab from the US Marshals Service

By James B. Kelleher

(Reuters) - Final jury selection begins on Tuesday in Detroit in the terror trial of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian accused of trying to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day 2009.

The 24-year-old former student is charged with eight felonies, including conspiracy to commit an act of terrorism, attempted murder and attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction. He faces life in prison if convicted of the botched suicide bombing.

Abdulmutallab has said he wants to represent himself at trial, which could make this week's normally routine process of jury selection unpredictable.

During a pretrial hearing last month, Abdulmutallab muttered "Osama's alive" to some spectators as he was brought into the courtroom and mumbled "jihad" when the judge used the phrase "al Qaeda" as she read the charges against him.

Some 250 potential jurors have already filled out questionnaires. Over the next few days, that pool will be cut to 12 jurors and four alternates.

Opening arguments are scheduled to begin October 11.

Abdulmutallab is accused of attempting to detonate an explosive device sewn into his underwear as Northwest Flight 253 from Amsterdam approached Detroit nearly two years ago. But the device malfunctioned and burned Abdulmutallab, who was then overpowered by other passengers.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, an offshoot of the group based in Yemen, claimed responsibility for the attack. The attempted bombing was also praised by Osama bin Laden in 2010.

In the aftermath of the failed Christmas Day bombing, the United States authorized the targeted killing of Anwar al-Awlawki, an American living in Yemen who was linked to Abdulmutallab and who was killed by a U.S. drone attack last week. Major Nidal Malik Hasan, a U.S. Army psychiatrist who is accused of killing 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas in November 2009, also had links to Abdulmutallab.

The Abdulmutallab case highlighted a number of glaring intelligence failures on the part of the United States and its allies.

A month before the December 2009 attack, intelligence officers intercepted separate communications out of Yemen that indicated a man named "Umar Farouk" had volunteered for a coming al Qaeda operation and that a Nigerian was being trained for a suicide attack.

In addition, Abdulmutallab's father, a prominent Nigerian banker, warned U.S. Embassy personnel weeks before the attack that his son had adopted extreme religious and anti-American views.

Even so, Abdulmutallab was never put on the so-called "no-fly list."

(Editing by Greg McCune)

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