Failed 'underwear' bomber fires his US lawyers

Nigerian national Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, was arrested on December 25, 2009 after an aborted attempted to ignite explosives he had hidden under his clothes.

At a 30-minute court session yesterday he told Judge Nancy Edmunds he wanted to defend himself, said Rod Hansen, press officer for the federal district court for the Eastern District of Michigan.

Abdulmutallab announced his decision at the beginning of the hearing, prompting Edmunds to summon the Nigerian to the bench, Hansen said.

"She asked him a lot of questions," Hansen said. "She also asked him he had any legal training and if he understood US (law)."

"He really didn't answer," Hansen added. Edmunds told Abdulmutallab that he was making a mistake but accepted his decision, saying she would appoint him "standby counsel" from the public defenders office to help him prepare his defense.

Abdulmutallab asked Edmunds during the hearing if it was possible for him to plead guilty to "some" of the charges against him, but the judge told him she was not allowed to offer any legal advice to a defendant in her court.

Edmunds had been expected to set a trial date during the yesterday hearing, but instead scheduled another status conference for October 14.

She approved a request filed by Abdulmutallab's legal team seeking more time to file defense motions, but after the Nigerian's decision to fire his attorneys it was unclear whether the extra time would still be needed.

Security around the Detroit courthouse was beefed up during the hearing, with dozens of officers, including some with automatic weapons and bullet-proof vests, surrounding the building.

Abdulmutallab pleaded not guilty in January to six terrorism-related charges, including the attempted murder of 290 people on board the plane and trying to use a weapon of mass destruction.

He faces a maximum penalty of life imprisonment if convicted. The son of a prominent Nigerian banker, Abdulmutallab allegedly had explosives stitched into his underwear, which failed to detonate aboard the Northwest flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.

While the explosive device appeared to have been flawed, the attack was also thwarted by passengers and crew, who tackled and restrained Abdulmutallab before he was escorted off the plane in Detroit.

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