DETROIT – A Nigerian man accused of trying to ignite an explosive on a Detroit-bound U.S. airliner on Christmas appeared before a judge for the first time Friday, against a backdrop of protesters who stood outside the courthouse waving American flags and denouncing acts of terror.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s arraignment was brief – less than five minutes – and a not guilty plea was entered on his behalf. He said little, telling the judge simply that he understood the charges.
Authorities say the 23-year-old Nigerian with al-Qaida links was traveling to Detroit from Amsterdam when he tried to destroy the Northwest Airlines plane carrying nearly 300 people by injecting chemicals into a package of explosives concealed in his underwear. The failed attack caused popping sounds and flames that passengers and crew rushed to extinguish.
A grand jury indicted him earlier this week on six charges. The most serious – attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction – could land Abdulmutallab in prison for life if convicted.
During Friday’s arraignment, Abdulmutallab, who wore a white T-shirt, tennis shoes and a chain shackle at his ankles, stood at the podium and answered questions in English from U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark A. Randon.
He said “Yes” when asked if he understood the charges against him and said he had taken “some pain pills” after the judge inquired whether he had taken any drugs or alcohol in the past 24 hours. Abdulmutallab, who is being held at a federal prison in Milan, Mich., had been treated at a hospital for burns.
About 50 men and women identifying themselves as Detroit-area Muslims chanted “We are Americans” as they marched behind metal barricades outside the courthouse to denounce terrorism. About a dozen of them carried flags or signs with messages such as “Not in the name of Islam.”