Nigerian native dismissed from airline attack jury

October 6, 2011 - 4:00 PM
Airline Attack

FILE - This December 2009 file photo released by the U.S. Marshal's Service shows Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in Milan, Mich. The stakes are significant as the government prosecutes Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab for the first terrorist attack in the U.S. during the Obama administration, a failed suicide strike that forced the rapid deployment of full-body scanners at American airports and revealed the rise of a new al-Qaida group. Jury selection in his trial begins Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2011. (AP Photo/U.S. Marshals Service, File)

DETROIT (AP) — A native of Nigeria was dismissed Thursday minutes after being picked as a juror for the trial of a Nigerian man accused of trying to bring down a jetliner with a bomb in his underwear, a sudden jolt at the end of a long, tiresome process involving dozens of candidates.

The woman, like all prospective jurors in the case, was never identified by name. There was no indication in court why she was removed.

U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds was wrapping up some routine pretrial issues, 30 minutes after settling on a 12-member jury and four alternates, when she declared, "We have a problem with a juror."

After a recess, she returned to the bench and said the woman was dismissed and would be replaced by an alternate in time for the trial's opening statements Tuesday.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 24-year-old from an upper-class Nigerian family, is accused of a stunning plot to blow up Northwest Airlines Flight 253 with a bomb in his underwear on Christmas 2009. The government says he was under the direction of a radical Islamic cleric and working for al-Qaida on the Amsterdam-to-Detroit plane. The bomb didn't work but he was badly burned.

There was no objection to keeping the Nigerian woman in the jury pool when she was questioned in court Wednesday, the second day of the selection process. She had said on a 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 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.

Abdulmutallab is representing himself but jury selection was handled by his court-appointed standby counsel, Anthony Chambers. Chambers declined to comment on why the Nigerian woman was dismissed but expressed disappointment with the makeup of the jury, which has nine women and three men. Two women are black, like Abdulmutallab.

"We don't have a fair cross-section of the community," Chambers said outside court.

In the moments before the jury was picked, a farmer 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.

Chambers said the defense might offer only one witness, a Detroit-area lawyer who was a passenger on Flight 253 and has a wild theory about what happened that day. Kurt Haskell told The Associated Press that the U.S. government conspired with Abdulmutallab and outfitted him with an intentionally defective bomb.

Haskell believes the incident was intended partly to force a broad roll-out of full-body scanners in U.S. airports.

"He's not innocent but he might be not guilty," Haskell said in an interview.

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.

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