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United States of America v. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab

Court United States District Court – Eastern District of Michigan, United States
Case number 10CR20005-1
Decision title Judgment in a Criminal Case
Decision date 16 February 2012
  • United States of America
  • Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab
Other names
  • The Underwear Bomber Case
Categories Terrorism
Keywords aircraft, conspiracy, guilty plea, life imprisonment, Terrorism
Other countries involved
  • Nigeria
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Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is a Nigerian national who was accused of attempting to set off an explosive device on a plane travelling from Amsterdam (the Netherlands) to Detroit, Michigan (the United States of America) on 25 December 2009. 

In an indictment filed before the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, prosecutors charged Abdulmutallab with eight counts, including conspiracy to commit terrorism. Abdulmatallab pleaded guilty on 21 October 2011 to all counts, including conspiracy to commit terrorism. On 16 February 2012, the District Court sentenced him to life imprisonment for four counts (including conspiracy to commit terrorism), and an additional 50 years for the remaining counts.

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Procedural history

The indictment of 6 January 2010 charged Abdulmutallab with six counts of offenses.The first superseding indictment contained two additional count (one of which was the offence of conspiracy to commit an act of terrorism) to the six counts of the earlier Indictment.

On 21 October 2011, Abdulmutallab pleaded guilty to all eight counts.

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Related developments

The sentence was upheld by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The Court rejected the arguments that there were doubts as to Abdulmutallab’s competency and that the sentence was cruel and unusual.

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Legally relevant facts

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old Nigerian national, was charged pursuant to an attempt to destroy a Northwest Airlines aircraft. After departing from Accra, Ghana, Abdulmutallab boarded Northwest Flight 253 in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, on 25 December 2009, carrying an explosive device concealed in his underwear. The device contained a highly explosive substance, known as Pentaerythritol Tetranitrate (Pentrite) and other explosive ingredients. While the aircraft reached its final approach to the Detroit Metropolitan Airport, Michigan (United States of America), Abdulmutallab set the device off resulting in fire. The passengers and the flight crew restrained Abdulmutallab and extinguished the fire. After landing, Abdulmutallab was taken into custody by the local authorities. (paras. 5-8 of the first superseding indictment).

Prior to the attempted detonation of the concealed bomb, Abdulmutallab became involved with Al Qaeda (a terrorist organization) in Yemen. From them he received training in detonating explosive devices and later the bomb itself for his mission (see paras. 1-4 of the first superseding indictment).

Abdulmutallab pleaded guilty to all counts of the First Superseding Indictment.

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Core legal questions

  • Pursuant to the guilty plea of Abdulmutallab, what is the appropriate sentence for him?

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Specific legal rules and provisions

  • Conviction for conspiracy to commit an act of terrorism was entered under Paras. 2332b(a)(1) and 2332b(a)(2) of the US Code.
  • The sentence was imposed pursuant to the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, Title II of the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984.

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Court's holding and analysis

The District Court sentenced Abdulmutallab to life imprisonment for four counts, including conspiracy to commit an act of terrorism, as well as 20 and 30 years for the remaining counts. The sentences were ordered to run concurrently. (p. 3)

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Instruments cited

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Additional materials