Prosecutors Seek Life for Underwear Bomber

The Government filed its sentencing statement today in the case of Detroit Underwear Bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

Abudulmutallab is set for sentencing Feb. 16. Some of the counts he pleaded guilty to carry a mandatory life sentence. The Government says a life sentence is also warranted because he remains committed to martyrdom. It attached the report of Dr. Simon Perry, a criminologist and professor from Hebrew University in Jerusalem and former Israeli police officer/official (for 30 years) to support its position. Interestingly, Perry never interviewed Abdulmutallab. He's based his opinion on FBI debriefings he was not present at, Umar's statements to the court at sentencing, interviews with various people and his knowledge of terrorism and martyrs. [More...]

The pleading explains how Abdulmutallab got involved in the failed bomb attempt. He went to Yemen in hopes of meeting Anwar al-Awlaki. It took a while, but according to what he told agents during a debriefing, ultimately he was successful. He spent a few days with al-Awlaki and was then sent to a training camp and then hooked up with bomb maker Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri.UFA told them al-Awlaki told him the attack had to be on an airplane once it reached the U.S., but did not tell him which flight or when to do it.

Contrary to this AP report, Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri was not killed with al-Awlaki in the drone attack in September, 2011. American-born Samir Kahn, who was the editor of Inspire, al-Qaida's English magazine, was killed with him. Early reports that al-Asiri was killed were later disputed. Al-Asiri is believed to be very much alive in Yemen, with AQAP. Hopefully, the AP will fix that soon. [More...]

From the Government's pleading, available on PACER:

Defendant and Al Asiri discussed defendant’s desire to commit an act of jihad. Thereafter, Al Asiri discussed a plan for a martyrdom mission with Awlaki, who gave it final approval, and instructed Defendant Abdulmutallab on it. For the following two weeks, defendant trained in an AQAP camp, and received instruction in weapons and indoctrination in jihad. During his time in the training camp, defendant met many individuals, including Samir Khan.

...Awlaki told defendant that he would create a martyrdom video that would be used after the defendant’s attack. Awlaki arranged for a professional film crew to film the video. Awlaki assisted defendant in writing his martyrdom statement, and it was filmed over a period of two to three days. The full video was approximately five minutes in length.

Although Awlaki gave defendant operational flexibility, Awlaki instructed defendant that the only requirements were that the attack be on a U.S. airliner, and that the attack take place over U.S. soil. Beyond that, Awlaki gave defendant discretion to choose the flight and date. Awlaki instructed defendant not to fly directly from Yemen to Europe, as that could attract suspicion. As a result, defendant took a circuitous route, traveling from Yemen to Ethiopia to Ghana to Nigeria to Amsterdam to Detroit. Prior to defendant’s departure from Yemen, Awlaki’s last instructions to him were to wait until the airplane was over the United States and then to take the plane down.

The criminologist's report (Doc. No. 130 on PACER)is interesting, but I'm not sure I buy it. He says suicide bombers/martyrs are not driven by hate, a desire for revenge or any altruistic purpose. He says they do it for the reward, which comes in three forms: religious rewards, personality rewards, and social rewards. He says this is the conclusion of a study the Israelis did of 40 would be suicide bombers who were apprehended after a failed attack.

Perry lists the characteristics of those most likely to want the rewards:

Individuals who: do not stand out; exhibit submissive and dependent personalities; have childish behavior; suffer from low self-esteem and are socially isolated; exhibit external locus of control whereby they do not accept any responsibility for failures by placing responsibility on others or circumstances; are characterized by a gap between the need “to be someone” and the ability to achieve it.

He says contrary to what one might expect, the would-be bombers have low levels of aggression. He asserts:

In summary, analyzing the study interviews as well as the literature and documentation about the phenomenon, I conclude that - counter to preconceptions - the act that we call “suicide bombing” is in fact a result of rational situational choice, based on an evaluation of the cost and the anticipated benefits.

Perry then says Abdulmutallab had a primary motivations besides a devotion to Jihadism. He points to Umar's contradictory statements to the FBI and the Court at his guilty plea hearing. I'm not sure why he credits either, or one over the other.

UFAM might believe at least some of the Jihadist propaganda, yet it is clear that it is not his main motivation for martyrdom. For example, in his statement to the court he claims that his attack was an outcome of the fact that the "American people are guilty of the sin, and Obama should pay for the crime". In contradiction to this statement made in court, UFAM previously, in his FBI debriefing, claims that he did not specifically target the U.S. for his mission. He said that he was prepared to pursue whatever Jihad path he was directed (by others) to pursue, regardless of the country or the target.

UFAM was entirely motivated by his realization of his religious obligation to conduct Jihad. In fact, UFAM believes it would be acceptable to conduct attacks against a Muslim country that did not practice and support the fundamentalist beliefs about Islam.

I think Dr. Perry contradicts himself as much as Abdulmutallab. This report makes no sense. He even says:

Interestingly, UFAM never mentions these rewards and does not raise these reinforcements as reasons for his decision to become a martyr. This phenomenon is characteristic also with other martyrs who believe that revealing the expected rewards lessens the importance of their act.

The Muslim Affairs Council says suicide bombers have varied motives, including "religious beliefs, nationalistic ideologies, obedience to charismatic and authoritarian leaders, or desire for political change." The Council makes no reference to personal rewards.

Dr. Perry discusses repeatedly in his report that Abdulmutallab's decision to engage in martyrdom was the result of his rational choice. He points to his education (as does the Government in its statement.) But, how is this rational thought?

UFAM focuses on and gave lectures about black magic - its origins, preventions and cures. From this one can deduce that he is preoccupied (to say the least) with the unknown and the mystical.

He speaks about "jinns" (which are frequently mentioned in the Koran and the Haddith). "Jinns" are creatures made from fire which have the properties of light. UFAM believes that Jinns frequently possess people and that they use their possessed to do their work by proxy.

Nonetheless, without having met Abdulmutallab, and based only on reports of his debriefings at which he wasn't present and statements in court, and a study in Israel of 40 terrorists involved in a single plot, he concludes Abdulmutallab's actions were motivated by a desire to advance his own personal interests rather than by a sincere, if misguided belief that he was sacrificing himself for his cause.

He doesn't address the contention in the Government's sentencing statement that:

The record is replete with defendant’s statements that he acted “to retaliate against government conduct.” See October 12, 2011, Tr. Vol. 5, page 26 (defendant stating he acted “in retaliation for U.S. support of Israel and in retaliation of the killing of innocent and civilian Muslim populations in Palestine, especially in the blockade of Gaza, and in retaliation for the killing of innocent and civilian Muslim populations in Yemen, Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan and beyond ”); id. (defendant committed an “act of jihad against the United States for the U.S. killing of my Muslim brothers and sisters around the world”); id. at 27 (defendant acted “to avenge”);id. (defendant acted “in retaliation”); id. at 28-29 (defendant acted “for the U.S. oppression of Muslims,” “for U.S. interference in Muslim countries,” “for U.S. use of weapons of mass destruction on Muslim populations” in various countries, and “for the U.S. wreckage of Muslim lands and property”.)

If the Government wanted to know about what motivates suicide bombers, why didn't it ask some of the terrorist defendants in other cases who pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate for a reduced sentence? The Government is always ready to vouch for the truth its cooperators when they are testifying against someone else the Government wants to put away. I wonder if Najibullah Zazi might not provide more insight than Dr. Perry.

Dr. Perry lists his sources for the report as the documents he consulted (debriefings of Abdulmutallab, his statements in court and a text message he sent his mother three months before the flight to Detroit), witness interviews, photographs in his possession when arrested and of his injuries and the 34 second excerpt of his 5 minute martyrdom video released by al- Qaida after his capture. Could he not even be bothered to read the defense pleadings in the case, such as the Motion to Suppress Statements, which contain his version of his mental state when making some of his statements?

Of course, with a mandatory life sentence, it hardly matters in the end. Which makes one wonder, why does the Government feel its necessary to play a simulation of the potential effect of Abdulmutallab's explosive device at sentencing? It filed a motion seeking permission to do so today.

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  • Display: Sort:
    personal reward? (none / 0) (#1)
    by diogenes on Sat Feb 11, 2012 at 04:40:40 PM EST
    "The Muslim Affairs Council says suicide bombers have varied motives, including "religious beliefs, nationalistic ideologies, obedience to charismatic and authoritarian leaders, or desire for political change." The Council makes no reference to personal rewards."

    I guess the Muslim Affairs Council doesn't buy the part about the seventy virgins, unlike the Guardian story  http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2002/jan/12/books.guardianreview5

    "n August, 2001, the American television channel CBS aired an interview with a Hamas activist Muhammad Abu Wardeh, who recruited terrorists for suicide bombings in Israel. Abu Wardeh was quoted as saying: "I described to him how God would compensate the martyr for sacrificing his life for his land. If you become a martyr, God will give you 70 virgins, 70 wives and everlasting happiness." Wardeh was in fact shortchanging his recruits since the rewards in Paradise for martyrs was 72 virgins. But I am running ahead of things..."

    did you even read the article you linked to (none / 0) (#2)
    by Jeralyn on Sat Feb 11, 2012 at 08:19:18 PM EST
    It's about whether the words have been translated correctly.  It's an oped, not a news article. After a reference to a single Israeli study mentioned on a TV show, the author delves into a new book on Islam he calls "fascinating" and if correct, the most important book on Islam. The book says the words you quote about the virgins have been mistranslated and in fact refer to food -- white raisins.

    Which is all rather irrelevant to the Underwear Bomber, unless he or someone who actually interviewed him (as opposed to someone who read a report of someone else's interview of him) tells us his motive. Even if a suicide bomber thinks he will get a reward, it doesn't mean the reward is reason he goes forward with the plan. Or that promise of the reward means he'd keep trying to blow things up if not locked up for life, which is what this doctor of criminology is saying.