DETROIT – A Nigerian on trial for a failed terrorist attack near Detroit kept his scorn for the U.S. under wraps Wednesday as a judge and lawyers settled on 47 people for final jury selection.
Thirty-two women and 15 men were told to return to court Thursday, five days before opening statements in the trial of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who is accused of trying to bring down an Amsterdam-to-Detroit plane with a bomb in his underwear on Christmas 2009.
The jury will have 12 people and four alternates.
Abdulmutallab was silent Wednesday, a contrast to Tuesday when he called the U.S. a “cancer” and claimed a radical Muslim cleric still is alive, despite a fatal strike last week by the U.S. military in Yemen.
There was occasional lighthearted laughter in the courtroom when U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds asked prospective jurors about their hobbies and lifestyles, but Abdulmutallab didn’t join in.
During one-on-one interviews in court, virtually everyone was familiar with the attempted attack. The challenge for lawyers and the judge was getting them to reveal whether that knowledge would prevent them from serving as a fair juror. Edmunds repeatedly talked about how news media sometimes make mistakes.
“They pulled this gentleman off the plane. He said he did it,” a man said. “It would be hard for me to say he didn’t do it.”
Names and most personal details of prospective jurors were not divulged. Abdulmutallab is acting as his own lawyer but, with one exception, has left the questioning to his court-appointed standby attorney, Anthony Chambers.
Lawyers did not object to keeping a woman from Nigeria, Abdulmutallab’s home country, in the jury pool. On her questionnaire, she said she was “embarrassed” when the incident occurred. In court, she said, “We all feel it as a community.”
A man said he had some fear of retaliation, no matter who wins the case.
“I do hear of car bombings. … I know those things happen in other countries all the time. It’s a possibility that’s out there,” the man said.
The long, two-day process produced difficult yet heartfelt admissions from people struggling for answers in an era of global terrorism.
“I don’t understand the hatred. I don’t understand it,” a woman said. “Why is there such hatred or dislike for America?”
The government says Abdulmutallab attacked Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on behalf of al-Qaida and with direction from Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born Muslim cleric who was killed Friday.