The Justice Department yesterday announced it has charged the young Nigerian jihadist on six counts for his attempt to blow up an airliner as it approached Detroit on Christmas Day. If 23-year-old Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is convicted, he faces life in prison, according to a statement by Attorney General Eric Holder.
On December 25, Abdulmutallab boarded Northwest Flight 253 in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, with a concealed bomb. The bomb, sewn into his underwear, consisted of two high explosive compounds: Pentaerythritol Tetranitrate (PETN) and Triacetone Triperoxide (TATP). Upon the airliner's approach to Detroit Metropolitan Airport, Abdulmutallab attempted to detonate the device, which burst into flames rather than exploded. Passengers and flight crew subdued and restrained Abdulmutallab until the plane was able to land.
If Abdulmutallab was successful, he could have killed 289 people on board Flight 253.
According to the federal indictment, Abdulmutallab has been charged with attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction, possession of a firearm/destructive in furtherance of a crime of violence, possession of a firearm/destructive in furtherance of a crime of violence, attempted murder, willful attempt to destroy and wreck an aircraft, and willfully placing a destructive device in an aircraft. The final three counts are within the "special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States," which pertains to crimes committed on aircraft when "in flight."
The New York Times reports the release of the indictment has rekindled the argument whether Abdulmutallab should have been designated an enemy combatant rather than afforded the rights of the U.S. criminal justice system, specifically the right to remain silence, because of intelligence collection priorities.
U.S. Senator Kit Bond, vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, released a statement yesterday criticizing Abdulmutallab's criminal indictment.
“We have learned the hard way that trying terrorists in federal court comes at a high price, from losing out on potentially life-saving intelligence to compromising our sources and methods," Bond said. "We must treat these terrorists as what they are—not common criminals, but enemy combatants in a war.”
The Times, however, reports that there is no precedent for handing over a suspected terrorist to the U.S. military as well as notes the Bush administration tried the shoebomber Richard Reid in federal court for his attempt to blow up an airliner.
In a prepared statement, Holder seems to have anticipated the question of whether intelligence collection is hampered by charging Abdulmutallab as a civilian criminal.
"This investigation is fast-paced, global and ongoing, and it has already yielded valuable intelligence that we will follow wherever it leads," Holder said. "Anyone we find responsible for this alleged attack will be brought to justice using every tool -- military or judicial -- available to our government."
Another law enforcement official told the Times that Abdulmutallab has told investigators who gave him the bomb, where it was given to him, and where he was trained to use it.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, an al Qaeda franchise operating in Yemen, has claimed responsibility for the attack.
♦ Photo by Department of Justice/WikiMediaCommons