By Ed White
DETROIT — A federal judge on Tuesday set an Oct. 4 trial date for a Nigerian man charged with trying to blow up a crowded Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day, 2009, using a bomb hidden in his underwear.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 24, is charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction and conspiring with others to kill 281 passengers and 11 crew members aboard Northwest Airlines Flight 253. U.S investigators believe he received training and instructions from al-Qaida operatives in Yemen, beginning in August 2009.
Law enforcement officials believe Abdulmutallab tried to ignite a two-part concoction of the highly explosive PETN and possibly a glycol-based liquid explosive that was hidden in his underwear. It set off popping sounds, smoke and some fire, but it didn't detonate. Passengers and crew rushed to subdue Abdulmutallab and extinguish the flames.
His standby counsel Anthony Chambers said outside court that he and Abdulmutallab would challenge the government's position that this was an explosive that could have brought the plane down.
"We have reason to believe that device could not have done the damage the government claims," Chambers told The Associated Press.
Abdulmutallab has pleaded not guilty and faces life in prison if convicted. He has been in custody at a federal prison in Milan, Mich., for 13 months.
Abdulmutallab fired his court-appointed defense attorneys in September and now is acting as his own lawyer. Federal Judge Nancy Edmunds appointed Chambers to assist him.
Much of Tuesday's 40-minute hearing was spent discussing whether Abdulmutallab will continue to represent himself and how he can review files in prison that are now held by his former lawyers. Edmunds repeatedly asked him if he wanted Chambers to become his new attorney, but he declined.
Abdulmutallab asked for a trial in 2012 to give him enough time to prepare, but Edmunds denied the request.
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"We need to move this case along," Edmunds said.