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Prosecutors: Alleged terrorist "thought he would end up in heaven"

U.S. Marshals

Attorneys for the federal government today laid out the road map they’ll use to prosecute the young Nigerian man accused of trying to blow up a Detroit-bound airplane two years ago.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Tukel told jurors Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s sole reason for being on Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on Christmas Day 2009 was to blow it up. Tukel said Abdulmutallab “thought he would end up in heaven because he would be a martyr.”

Tukel also sketched out some of the defendant's biographical details. He told jurors Abdulmutallab came from a wealthy Nigerian family, and attended prep school, then University College in London. Tukel said Abdulmutallab was attending graduate school in Dubai when he started listening to tapes of the radical cleric Anwar al Awlaki promoting jihad. Tukel said Abdulmutallab left graduate school to seek out al Qaeda in Yemen.

Prosecutors showed video stills in which the defendant urged his Muslim brothers to answer the call of jihad.

Legal analyst Charlie Langton says the defense will likely try to show that Abdulmutallab acted alone, without ties to al Qaeda.

"That’ll get rid of the terrorism charge," said Langton. "And number two, that the so-called bomb that was brought on an airplane was a firecracker, as some of the witnesses thought from the beginning."

Abdulmutallab's court-appointed stand-by legal counsel, Anthony Chambers, chose not to make an opening statement today, although he reserved to right to do so at a later time.

The defendant wore a gray tunic with gold trim, matching pants, and a black skullcap. He was quiet and polite.

The first government witness testified that he and other passengers helped Abdulmutallab onto the floor of the airplane after seeing a fire in the defendant’s lap. He said Abdulmutallab wore underwear that resembled something he hadn’t seen before. “They were bulky, and they were burning,” he said.

The trial resumes tomorrow, and is expected to last about a month.