DETROIT (Reuters) - Jury selection began on Wednesday in the trial of a Nigerian man accused of a botched attempt to blow up a U.S. passenger jet on Christmas day in 2009.
The defendant, 24-year-old Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was in the courthouse for a separate hearing on procedure and evidence, and watched by closed circuit TV as U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds briefed prospective jurors on the case in a first-floor room.
Abdulmutallab, who muttered “Osama’s alive” to some spectators as he was brought into the courtroom, mumbled “jihad” when Judge Edmunds used the name “al Qaeda” as she read the charges against him to the jury.
The prospective jurors gathered on a different floor were unable to hear the outbursts.
Abdulmutallab is charged with trying to detonate a bomb hidden in his underwear on a Northwest Airlines flight to Detroit from Amsterdam in a failed attack for which Yemen-based al Qaeda militants claimed responsibility.
Judge Edmunds considered several motions Abdulmutallab has made, including a request to quash incriminating statements he made to federal agents while he was being treated for burns shortly after his arrest.
During testimony Wednesday, an FBI agent acknowledged that investigators did not immediately read Abdulmutallab his rights in the hours after his arrest because they were concerned other suicide bombers might be in the air in a repeat of the September 11, 2001 attacks and did not want the Nigerian to stop talking to them.
Arguments on the issue will continue on Thursday.
Also during Wednesday’s hearing, Judge Edmunds denied Abdulmutallab’s request the case be moved out of Michigan.
Abdulmutallab, who has pleaded not guilty in the case, told U.S. investigators he received the bomb and training from al Qaeda militants in Yemen, home to a resurgent arm of the militant network, U.S. officials said.
Some 250 potential jurors began filling out forms on Wednesday. Formal jury selection in the case will begin on October 4, when the pool will be cut to 12 jurors and four alternates. Opening statements will start a week later.
After the attempted attack, the administration of President Barack Obama scrambled to strengthen U.S. airline security by deploying full-body scanners to detect explosives in a passenger’s clothing.
The device in the 2009 bombing attempt failed to fully detonate and Abdulmutallab, who suffered severe burns, was subsequently charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction, attempted murder and four other offenses. If convicted he could face life in prison.
Writing by James B. Kelleher; Editing by Greg McCune