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Terror suspect pleads not guilty

Photo by Carlos Osorio

Photo by Carlos Osorio

DETROIT -- A plea of not guilty was entered on behalf of a young Nigerian man on Friday during his first public court appearance to face charges of trying to ignite a chemical-laden explosive on a Detroit-bound U.S. airliner on Christmas Day.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's arraignment was brief -- lasting less than five minutes -- and he spoke little. Security was tight at the downtown federal courthouse as a handful of protesters stood outside.

At least one passenger from Northwest Airlines flight 253 attended. Hebba Aref, a Detroit area native who sat six rows behind Abdulmutallab on the plane, said she came because the attack ''changed my life.''

Authorities say the 23-year-old Nigerian with al-Qaida links was traveling to Detroit from Amsterdam when he tried to destroy the plane carrying nearly 300 people by injecting chemicals into a package of explosives concealed in his underwear. The failed attack caused popping sounds and flames that passengers and crew rushed to extinguish.

A grand jury indicted him earlier this week on six charges. The most serious -- attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction -- could land Abdulmutallab in prison for life if convicted.

During Friday's arraignment, Abdulmutallab, who wore a white T-shirt, tennis shoes and a chain shackle at his ankles, stood at the podium and answered questions in English from U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark A. Randon.

He said ''yes'' when asked if he understood the charges against him and said he had taken ''some pain pills'' after the judge inquired whether he had taken any drugs or alcohol in the past 24 hours. Abdulmutallab, who is being held at a federal prison in Milan, Mich., had been treated at a hospital for burns after the attack.

His attorneys then waived the reading of the indictment, and Randon entered the not guilty plea. It is routine practice in federal court for the defendant to allow the judge to enter a plea on his behalf rather than say anything himself.

His defense attorney, Miriam Siefer, also did not challenge the government's request to keep Abdulmutallab in pre-trial custody.

After the hearing, Aref, who drew international attention last year after being refused a seat directly behind then-presidential candidate Barack Obama at a Detroit rally because she was wearing a headscarf, said she just wanted to see Abdulmutallab again.

''It's a historic moment, and I want to be part of it,'' said Aref, 27, who now lives in Kuwait.

She said she wants Abdulmutallab to be ''tried by the system'' but also is concerned about the bigger picture.

It's the ''whole ideology out there that's radical and misuses a beautiful religion,'' she said. ''That's what needs to be dealt with and deterred. ... He's just a small part of it.''