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Christmas Day bomb suspect was read Miranda rights nine hours after arrest

By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 15, 2010; A06

The 23-year-old Nigerian man accused of attempting to blow up Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on Christmas Day was read his Miranda rights nine hours after his arrest, according to a detailed chronology released Sunday by senior administration officials.

The timing of events during the arrest, initial interrogation and medical treatment of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was made available after Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) made statements about the process that administration officials believe are misleading. "It makes no sense to get a guy off an airplane who just tried to blow up the airplane and read him his rights within 50 minutes," Graham said in an interview on Fox News.

Graham is one of several Republicans who have cited the handling of Abdulmutallab as an example of what they see as the administration's faulty response to a terrorist assault on a U.S. airliner. On Feb. 3, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the American people and Congress wanted to know "why an al-Qaeda-trained terrorist fresh from Yemen and caught in the act of an attempt to blow up an airliner was handed over to a lawyer after a 50-minute interview."

Although administration officials have given background briefings and answered questions in recent weeks about Abdulmutallab, they have not fully presented basic facts about how he was handled.

The first questioning of the suspect, which took place more than three hours after his arrest and without him being read his Miranda rights, ended after 50 minutes when doctors said his medical condition had deteriorated, according to the chronology. When interrogation resumed, some five hours later, the Nigerian refused to answer further questions and was then read his Miranda rights.

No administration official has said directly that the suspect had stopped answering questions before he was read his rights. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs came close to doing so during an interview on MSNBC last week: "He didn't just stop talking because he got Mirandized; he stopped talking because he was trained to stop talking."

This version of events was assembled from the new information provided by administration officials, interviews and past briefings for the media.

11:38 a.m., Dec. 25: Northwest Airlines Flight 253 from Amsterdam crosses into U.S. airspace. Six minutes later Abdulmutallab allegedly attempts to detonate a bomb concealed in his underwear. It causes a fire that is extinguished, and within three minutes the Nigerian is subdued.

12:03 p.m.: The plane lands, and U.S. customs agents come aboard and arrest Abdulmutallab. After holding him in a special room, officials decide at 12:45 to take Abdulmutallab to the University of Michigan hospital for emergency treatment of his second- and third-degree burns.

While the suspect's burns are being treated, the FBI's Detroit special agent in charge picks two agents to carry out the initial questioning of Abdulmutallab. One of the two is a veteran counterintelligence agent with experience in Iraq and Afghanistan; the other is a specialist in bomb material.

2 p.m.: FBI agents arrive at the hospital and discuss Abdulmutallab's physical and mental state with doctors treating him.

3:30 p.m.: Agents begin interrogating Abdulmutallab under rules that permit questioning about immediate threats to U.S. security without the reading of Miranda rights. The questions concern whether other bombs were on the plane, whether Abdulmutallab had co-conspirators and whether there were plans for other attacks.

"It's to take advantage of the shock of arrest," said one law enforcement official. The interrogation produced some useful intelligence, according this and other officials.

After 50 minutes FBI agents end the questioning "when doctors need to take him in for additional treatment because his medical condition has deteriorated," according to the chronology.

Abdulmutallab "had begun to wind down" and "gave indications he was going to stop talking," according to a law enforcement official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

4:30 p.m.: Abdulmutallab undergoes surgery, which lasts more than four hours.

4:30-6:30 p.m.: John Brennan, President Obama's deputy national security adviser for counterterrorism, holds a video-conference including representatives of the FBI, the National Counterterrorism Center, the CIA, the National Security Agency, the departments of State and Homeland Security, and the Federal Aviation Administration.

Information is shared and plans are set on how to exploit what has been learned and to discuss next steps. Reading Abdulmutallab his Miranda rights is not discussed, although it is understood he would be put into the criminal justice system and a second team of FBI interrogators was being sent in.

9 p.m.: New FBI agents meet with Abdulmutallab in his hospital room. He says he will not answer their questions and "acted like a jihadi," the chronology states. He is read his Miranda rights.

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