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Judge in botched airline bomb case lays out trial rules

Booking photograph of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab from the US Marshals Service
Booking photograph of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab from the US Marshals Service

DETROIT (Reuters) - A judge overseeing the trial of a Nigerian man accused of a botched Christmas Day attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound passenger jet in 2009 laid out ground rules on Friday aimed largely at shielding jurors' privacy.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is charged with trying to detonate a bomb hidden in his underwear on a Northwest Airlines flight to Detroit from Amsterdam, in a failed attack for which Yemen-based al Qaeda militants claimed responsibility.

Abdulmutallab, who pleaded not guilty in the case, had previously told U.S. investigators he received the bomb and training from al Qaeda militants in Yemen, home to a resurgent arm of the militant network, U.S. officials said.

Much of U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Edmunds' order on Friday concerned the security of prospective jurors and those ultimately selected to hear the case.

Citing the "intense media and public interest" in the trial, due to begin in earnest next month, Edmunds ruled the jury would remain anonymous.

She prohibited any attempts to make contact with jurors while they are involved in the case and placed limits on what sketch artists covering the trial may include in their drawings.

Edmunds also barred spectators from bringing cell phones, laptops, PDAs or other electronic devices, including recorders, into the courtroom.

She said if any reporters violated the rules, she would consider banning laptops and other recording devices from a media overflow room, or closing it altogether.

She warned that members of the media who violate her rules would forfeit their organization's courtroom seating credentials for the duration of the trial.

Jury selection in the case will begin on October 4 and opening statements will start a week later. But preliminary proceedings in the case will begin next Wednesday, when about 250 potential jurors will report to a federal court building in downtown Detroit to fill out questionnaires.

After the attempted attack, the Obama administration scrambled to strengthen U.S. airline security by deploying full-body scanners to try to detect explosives that could be hidden in a passenger's clothing.

The device in the 2009 bombing attempt failed to fully detonate and Abdulmutallab, who suffered severe burns, was subsequently charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction, attempted murder and four other offenses, charges that could lead to life in prison if convicted.

(Writing by James B. Kelleher, Editing by Cynthia Johnston)

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