Grand jury indicts accused airline bomber on six counts in attack

A U.S. grand jury has indicted Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab on six counts in an alleged plot to bomb a passenger jet on Christmas Day.

The charges against Abdulmutallab, 23, include attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction, which carries a penalty of up to life in prison, attempted murder, and willful attempt to destroy or wreck an aircraft.

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Abdulmutallab allegedly attempted to detonate a bomb made from explosives PETN and TATP as Northwest Flight 253 was descending into Detroit en route from Amsterdam. There were 279 passengers and 11 crew on board. The flight landed safely after passengers and crew subdued him.

“The charges that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab faces could imprison him for life,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement. “This investigation is fast-paced, global and ongoing, and it has already yielded valuable intelligence that we will follow wherever it leads. Anyone we find responsible for this alleged attack will be brought to justice using every tool -- military or judicial -- available to our government.”

“The attempted murder of 289 innocent people merits the most serious charges available, and that’s what we have charged in this indictment,” added Barbara McQuade, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan.

The White House will publicly disclose an unclassified report Thursday detailing what led to the near-takedown of the plane on Christmas Day. The review, ordered by President Barack Obama and compiled by deputy national security adviser John Brennan, comes one day after Obama said he will "not tolerate" human and systemic failures like the one that allowed a would-be terrorist onto the Detroit-bound flight.

Capitol Hill Republicans quickly decried the Obama administration’s decision to prosecute Abdulmutallab in civilian court rather than turn him over to military custody and declare him an enemy combatant. Critics argue that by bringing Abdulmutallab before a judge and allowing him to face charges, the administration is missing an opportunity to interrogate him more thoroughly.

“We have learned the hard way that trying terrorists in federal court comes at a high price, from losing out on potentially life-saving intelligence to compromising our sources and methods,” Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.), the ranking member of the intelligence committee, said in a statement. “We must treat these terrorists as what they are — not common criminals, but enemy combatants in a war.”


White House spokesman Robert Gibbs has said that Abdulmutallab spent “a number of hours” with FBI investigators who gleaned “actionable intelligence.” Administration officials have said that Abdulmutallab cooperated with FBI interrogators for several hours until he shut down Christmas night.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s office (D-Calif.), who chairs the intelligence committee, and Judiciary Commtitee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Republicans have railed against the administration’s decision to prosecute Abdulmutallab in civilian courts because, they argue, it would afford him far greater constitutional and procedural rights, such as the right to remain silent, and obtain counsel quickly.

“Comparing the right to counsel of a criminal in an American federal court to a terrorist in the military commission process doesn’t pass the laugh test,” remarked a Senate GOP aide. “…The military commission process is not about denying justice, but instead is about securing life-saving intelligence and protecting our sources and methods.”


This story was updated at 5:45 p.m.