DETROIT — A Nigerian man accused of trying to bring down a jetliner with a bomb in his underwear made a defiant political outburst yesterday, demonstrating again why his courtroom behavior will be closely watched throughout the trial where he's representing himself.
"The mujahadeen will wipe out the U.S. — the cancer U.S.," said Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, scowling as he referred to Muslim guerrilla fighters.
He also claimed that a radical Muslim cleric killed last week by the American military is still alive.
In almost two years of legal proceedings, Abdulmutallab has normally been polite and studious in front of the judge and prospective jurors. But in the moments before court, he's shown a tendency to make comments reflecting loyalty to al-Qaeda and contempt for the United States.
The 24-year-old is charged in federal court with trying to destroy the Amsterdam-to-Detroit flight on Christmas 2009.
His trial is expected to last three or four weeks.
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 Abdulmutallab.
The government says Abdulmutallab willingly explained the plot twice, first to U.S. border officers who took him off the plane and then in more detail to FBI agents who interviewed him at a hospital for 50 minutes, after treatment for serious burns to his groin.
Prospective jurors were questioned one by one, and most were told to return tomorrow for inclusion in the final pool of 37 to 45 people.
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.
Nearly all potential jurors said they had already heard something about the case, the judge said.
For some, including one who told the judge, "I just feel he's very guilty," that was the end of that.
But many others told the court that they could put aside whatever news accounts they had seen, whatever feelings they had about groups like al-Qaeda, and whatever casual conversations they may have already had about Abdulmutallab.
There was no good indication how active Abdulmutallab will be when witnesses begin testifying next week. Yesterday, he rarely looked up from the defense table and deferred most questions to Anthony Chambers, his court-appointed standby attorney.
U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds firmly recommended that he not wear jail clothes and instead put on something that would make a "better impression on jurors."
Abdulmutallab asked whether he could wear a traditional Yemeni belt with a dagger — a request the judge swiftly denied.
Abdulmutallab, a well-educated man from a wealthy African family, has spent two years in custody and rarely causes a ripple in court. But yesterday's outburst was his second in two weeks.
"Anwar is alive," Abdulmutallab said, referring to American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed in Yemen just days ago.
The government alleges Abdulmutallab's attack on Northwest Airlines Flight 253 was directed by al-Awlaki. In September, Abdulmutallab referenced slain al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who called him a hero.