By James B. Kelleher and Meghana Keshavan
DETROIT (Reuters) - A judge swore in the jury on Thursday in the trial of a Nigerian man accused of a botched attempt to blow up a U.S. passenger plane on Christmas Day 2009 that al Qaeda said it instigated.
The 12-person panel in the trial, due to start next week, is comprised of three men and nine women, and includes a homemaker, a housekeeper, a nurse's aide and the wife of a Baptist pastor. Of the 12, only two are black.
Opening arguments in the case are scheduled to begin on Tuesday morning. Still up in the air was whether the defendant, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who wants to represent himself at trial, will present his own opening argument.
Abdulmutallab, 24, is charged with attempting to detonate explosives sewn into his underwear as Northwest Flight 253 approached Detroit from Amsterdam, in a botched bombing that led to a further tightening of U.S. aviation security.
The device malfunctioned and burned Abdulmutallab, who was then overpowered by other passengers. He has been in U.S. custody ever since.
The London-educated defendant has said he wanted to represent -- though the court has appointed standby counsel who has helped him with pretrial motions and nearly all of the jury selection.
On Thursday, the government asked the court to force Abdulmutallab to say whether he planned to present the opening argument, something he has long maintained he would do.
For the second time this week, Abdulmutallab, wearing a black jacket over a traditional tunic with a black skull cap, rose to his feet and addressed the court, asking for another 24 hours to decide.
U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Edmunds gave Abdulmutallab until 4 p.m. on Friday to inform the court and the prosecution of his intentions.
FACES LIFE IN PRISON
Abdulmutallab is charged with eight felonies, including conspiracy to commit an act of terrorism, attempted murder and attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction. He faces life in prison if convicted.
Al Qaeda's Yemen-based arm claimed responsibility for the failed attack, which was also praised by Osama bin Laden in 2010, months before the al Qaeda leader was killed in a U.S. commando raid in Pakistan.
Abdulmutallab had told U.S. investigators he received the bomb and training from al Qaeda militants in Yemen, U.S. officials have said, and the botched attack thrust the Arab state to the forefront of U.S. security concerns.
The trial, taking place under high security inside the Theodore Levin U.S. Courthouse in downtown Detroit, was expected to last at least a month.
As the jury pool was narrowed on Thursday, two black people who were in the pool were eliminated at the last-minute, including Juror 169, a retired packing plant supervisor who Abdulmutallab's standby counsel had insisted earlier this week needed to make the final panel.
But the prosecution struck Juror 169 from the pool without any objection after he told the judge in open court that "I'm not going to condemn anyone."
"Are you saying you can't render a verdict?" Edmunds asked. "You understand the issue of punishment is not submitted to the jury. Does that make it easier?"
"I'm a mercy person," he replied.
Juror 321, a Nigerian-born woman who said earlier this week she had been embarrassed when Abdulmutallab was pulled off the plane two years ago and charged with attempting to kill the nearly 300 people on board, made the final panel.
But immediately after the jury was sworn in and excused, a court clerk informed the judge that Juror 321 had asked to be removed from the panel for an undisclosed reason.
Juror 321 was then excused and replaced by Juror 277, a white woman.
Anthony Chambers, the standby counsel appointed to assist Abdulmutallab, said outside the court he was not happy with the make-up of the jury.
"Obviously I'm not pleased with the pool as it doesn't seem to represent the community," Chambers said. "We're always concerned with how other countries treat our citizens when they have legal problems. We have to be fair also."
(Editing by Greg McCune and Cynthia Johnston)