10/04/2011 11:35 EDT | Updated 12/04/2011 05:12 EST

Airline attack suspect tells court radical Islamic cleric killed by US air strike 'is alive'

DETROIT - A Nigerian man accused of trying to bring down an international jetliner with a bomb in his underwear told a federal court Tuesday that a radical Islamic cleric killed by the U.S. military is alive and called the United States a cancer.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 24, made the statement as jury selection began for his federal terror trial in Detroit, where he is acting as his own attorney.

"Anwar is alive," Abdulmutallab told the court before questioning of potential jurors got under way. "The mujahadeen will wipe out the U.S. — the cancer U.S."

The government says Abdulmutallab, a well-educated Nigerian from an upper-class family, was directed in the attack by American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed Friday by a joint CIA-U.S. military air strike in Yemen.

Abdulmutallab said he wanted to become a martyr on Christmas 2009, when he boarded Northwest Airlines Flight 253 in Amsterdam, according to the government.

The failed attack was the first act of terrorism in the U.S. during the Obama administration, and it could have implications in the debate over whether terrorism suspects should be tried in civilian or military courts.

The episode also revealed the rise of a dangerous al-Qaida affiliate and al-Awlaki's growing influence.

Abdulmutallab, who has pleaded not guilty, faces eight charges, including conspiracy to commit terrorism and attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction. The government says he wanted to blow up the plane by detonating chemicals in his underwear, just seven minutes before the jet carrying 279 passengers and a crew of 11 was to land at Detroit Metropolitan Airport.

But the bomb didn't work. Passengers assisted by crew members saw flames and pounced on Abdulmutallab.

The government says he willingly explained the plot twice, first to U.S. border officers who took him off the plane and then in more detail to FBI agents who interviewed him at a hospital for 50 minutes, following treatment for serious burns to his groin.


Associated Press writer Jeff Karoub contributed to this report.