Nigerian native dismissed from airline attack jury
DETROIT (AP) — A native of Nigeria was dismissed Thursday shortly after being picked as a juror for the trial of a Nigerian man accused of trying to bring down an international flight with a bomb in his underwear.
About a half-hour after 12 jurors and four alternates were selected for Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's trial, U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds told attorneys, "we have a problem with a juror."
Edmunds then dismissed a woman identified a day earlier as being from Abdulmutallab's home country. The judge did not elaborate or explain the dismissal in court.
Abdulmutallab, a well-educated 24-year-old from an upper-class family, was directed by a radical Islamic cleric and wanted to become a martyr when he boarded Northwest Airlines Flight 253 in Amsterdam on Christmas 2009, according to the government.
Lawyers had not objected to keeping the Nigerian woman in the jury pool when she was questioned in court Wednesday. She had said on a jury questionnaire that she was "embarrassed" at the time of the attack.
"We all feel it as a community," she said in court.
The woman said in court that she is from Nigeria's "middle belt," where dozens of ethnic groups mingle on contested land separating the Muslim north from the predominantly Christian south.
Abdulmutallab's family home is in northern Nigeria.
The dismissed juror will now be replaced by one of the four alternates and a new alternate will be chosen. Opening statements in the trial are scheduled for Tuesday. Abdulmutallab, who is acting as his own lawyer but has a court-appointed attorney, may deliver his own remarks.
He has pleaded not guilty to eight charges, including conspiracy to commit terrorism and attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction. The government says he wanted to blow up the plane by detonating chemicals in his underwear, just seven minutes before the jet carrying 279 passengers and a crew of 11 was to land at Detroit Metropolitan Airport.
But the bomb didn't work, and passengers assisted by crew members saw flames and pounced on Abdulmutallab.
The failed suicide attack, the first act of terrorism in the U.S. during the Obama administration, revealed the rise of a dangerous al-Qaida affiliate and the growing influence of American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed by a U.S. military strike in Yemen last week.
In the moments before the jury was picked, a farmer who was late said he would have a hard time serving. He eloquently described himself as a man who prefers "mercy before condemnation."
"I've got to face the eternal judge myself," said the man, whose name was not released.
The judge did not excuse him from the pool but prosecutors used one of their challenges to remove him.