Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Nigerian Youth Allowed to Defend Himself in Terrorism Case

US Court : Abdulmutallab Can Defend Self

By Paul Ohia with agency report, 09.14.2010
Nigeria ThisDay

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian charged with trying to blow up a plane in the United States can fire his court-appointed attorney and defend himself, a judge ruled yesterday.

"In my opinion you would be far better defended by a trained lawyer than by yourself," U.S. District Judge Nancy G. Edmunds told Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 24, before granting his request.

"They have worked on what they believe is in my best interest," Abdulmutallab said about a court-appointed legal team that has represented him for eight months. "But, not what I believe is in my best interest."

Although his attorney's and federal prosecutors had planned only to discuss pretrial issues related to the charges of attempting to murder nearly 300 people on board Northwest Airlines Flight 253, the defendant's request to personally attend today's session has caused speculation about a possible plea to the charges.

Filings by Abdulmutallab's lawyers last week indicated talks are ongoing about a plea bargain for the man who federal authorities have said is cooperating and has provided "actionable information" about other potential terrorist activities overseas.

Abdulmutallab indicated he is interested in pleading guilty to some charges, but told the judge he had discussed his differences with his lawyers and felt no matter who is appointed to him," There will always be a conflict of interest."

After telling Abdulmutallab she would appoint another lawyer to act as his "standby counsel," to offer legal advice, the defendant asked the judge: "When I represent myself, if I want to plead guilty to some counts. How would that go?"

"He does not want to defend himself. He just wants to get maximum mileage out of this for his Terrorist organization to help them recruit terrorist in the US Homeland” Shama Chopra, one of the plane’s passengers and husband Ray Chopra of Canada said in an e-mail to THISDAY.

They continued: “Mr. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is no amateur . He is a well –educated, trained Al Qaeda terrorist who knows exactly how the United States system works.

His intention to defend himself today is a well crafted strategy to get maximum mileage and coverage for Al Qaeda and help Terrorist Organizations in recruiting in the heartland of the United States.” Security around the courthouse in downtown Detroit was increased ahead of the afternoon hearing.

A bomb-sniffing dog circled the perimeter of the building while U.S. Department of Homeland Security agents and Detroit police hovered nearby. The hearing also sparked media interest with photographers, reporters and several satellite TV trucks outside the building.

Inside, reporters were allowed into the courtroom, but no photographers. Other media representatives are watching from another room where the proceedings are being shown on a large screen TV, Detroit News said.

Edmunds was expected to set a trial date, eight months after the Nigerian citizen was arraigned on six charges, including the attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction. She also was to consider a request from Abdumutallab's court-appointed lawyers to extend a deadline for pretrial motions.

Abdulmutallab is accused of attempting to set off chemical explosives hidden in his underwear near the conclusion of an 8 hour flight from Amsterdam on Christmas Day. Passengers who saw flames pounced on Abdulmutallab, subdued him and forced him to the front of airliner as it approached Detroit Metropolitan Airport. Abdulmutallab had boarded the plane in Amsterdam after flying there from Nigeria.

In the court filing last week, defense lawyers said they had talked to prosecutors on "multiple occasions" about resolving the case. The U.S. attorney's office has declined to comment.

Legal experts have told The News that asking for a deal after providing information is likely to be the only way Abdulmutallab can
avoid a lengthy prison sentence.

Abdulmutallab has been held at a federal prison in Milan while awaiting trial. He has not appeared in court since Jan. 8.

U.S. investigators have said Abdulmutallab told them he received training and instructions from al-Qaida operatives in Yemen. His father, a prominent Nigerian banker, warned the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria that his son had drifted into extremism in Yemen, but that threat was never fully digested by the U.S. security apparatus.

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