DETROIT – A Nigerian man charged with trying to blow up an international flight with nearly 300 people on Christmas fired his lawyers Monday, repeatedly declaring he wanted to represent himself and suggesting he's ready to plead guilty to some charges.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab didn't offer a specific reason for his displeasure with the four-lawyer, publicly financed defense team. U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds said it was an "unwise" choice, but she granted his request to face terror-related charges on his own.
The judge still will appoint a stand-by lawyer to offer advice, though that attorney would not take an active role in any trial.
Just before the court hearing ended, Abdulmutallab said: "If I want to plead guilty to some counts ... basically, how would that go?"
Edmunds said the stand-by counsel would answer his questions.
It was a surprising development, just four days after his defense team had asked for a new deadline to challenge evidence and also disclosed that plea-bargain discussions had occurred with prosecutors on "multiple occasions."
Abdulmutallab, 24, is charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction to blow up Northwest Airlines Flight 253 as the Amsterdam-to-Detroit plane approached its destination Dec. 25. Passengers who saw flames pounced on Abdulmutallab, subdued him and forced him to the front of the plane. Authorities say he was trying to set off explosives hidden in his underwear.
U.S. investigators have said Abdulmutallab told them he received training and instructions from al-Qaida operatives in Yemen.
It was just the second court hearing attended by Abdulmutallab since his Jan. 8 arraignment. The judge had planned to set a trial date but changed course on the bench, telling the courtroom the suspect wanted to fire his lawyers.
"I prefer to represent myself. ... I don't feel any representation I get would represent me in a way that's in my best interest," Abdulmutallab said.
Edmunds took several minutes to question him about the daunting task of being his own lawyer: Have you studied law? Have you ever represented yourself? Do you know the rules of evidence? Do you realize you face life in prison?
Outside the courtroom, the head of the defense team, Miriam Siefer, said Abdulmutallab has the right to represent himself "and he's exercised that right." She declined further comment. Prosecutors also declined to comment. The next court hearing is Oct. 14.
"It's hard to understand what he's thinking," said veteran Detroit defense lawyer David Steingold, who is not in the case. "If he just wanted to get it over with, he certainly would not have anyone better equipped to get him the best deal than the very people that he's just fired."
Associated Press Writer Jeff Karoub contributed to this report.
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