A Nigerian man said Wednesday he tried to blow up an international flight for al Qaeda with a bomb in his underwear in retaliation for the killing of Muslims worldwide, taking a federal court in Detroit by surprise as he pleaded guilty on the second day of his trial.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab answered questions from U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds before pleading guilty to all eight charges he faced, including conspiracy to commit terrorism and attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction. He then told the courtroom that the bomb was a "blessed weapon to save the lives of innocent Muslims."
"I intended to wreck a U.S. aircraft for the U.S. wreckage of Muslim lands and property," Abdulmutallab said.
Abdulmutallab, who told the judge he is 25, said he carried a bomb onto Northwest Airlines Flight 253 in his underwear on Christmas 2009 with the intention of killing the nearly 300 people on board. The bomb didn't work, and passengers jumped on Abdulmutallab when they saw smoke and fire.
CBS Radio News chief legal analyst Andrew Cohen said Abdulmutallab now joins another al Qaeda defendant, Zacarias Moussaoui, in entering a guilty plea in federal court.
"This isn't a terrible surprise because he had no legitimate legal defense," Cohen said. "All those witnesses on the plane saw what he did, and there was a confession as well. And the judge clearly wasn't going to let him put on a political defense."
Prosecutors' evidence was stacked high. The government said he told FBI agents he was working for al Qaeda and directed by Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical, American-born Muslim cleric recently killed by the U.S. in Yemen.
There were also photos of his scorched shorts as well as video of Abdulmutallab explaining his suicide mission before departing for the U.S.
On Tuesday, passengers on Flight 253 testified that Abdulmutallab took a long bathroom break in the plane, during which prosecutors say he was preparing for martyrdom.
He took a small bag to the bathroom and was gone 10 to 15 minutes, according to passenger Mike Zantow, the first witness in Abdulmutallab's terrorism trial.
"I thought he was freshening up for arrival in Detroit. ... We had less than an hour to go," Zantow said.
A prosecutor said Abdulmutallab was performing a cleansing ritual to prepare for death before returning to his seat to try to detonate a bomb in his underwear on behalf of al Qaeda.
In his opening remarks to jurors, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Tukel said the son of a wealthy Nigerian banker believed his calling that day was martyrdom.
"He was preparing to die and enter heaven," Tukel said. "He purified himself. He washed. He brushed his teeth. He put on perfume."
Zantow said he helped move Abdulmutallab out of his burning seat and heard another passenger say: "Hey, dude, your pants are on fire."
Tukel on Tuesday offered some new details from inside Flight 253, which had 290 people aboard from 26 countries. He described Abdulmutallab's long bathroom break and how the young man threw a blanket over himself and allegedly attempted to detonate a bomb shortly before the plane landed.
Abdulmutallab pushed a syringe plunger into the chemical bomb, an action that produced a loud "pop" sound, then flames and smoke, the prosecutor said.
"Then all hell broke loose. While the fireball was on him, the defendant sat there," Tukel said. "He didn't move. He was expressionless. He was completely blank."