A federal judge on Thursday ruled that the Nigerian man who pleaded guilty to trying to blow up a U.S. airliner bound for Detroit in 2009 can face life in prison.
A bomb hidden in the underwear of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, now 25, caused a fire but failed to explode on a Delta Airlines flight carrying 289 people on December 25, 2009.
U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds, who was due to sentence Abdulmutallab in a hearing continuing on Thursday afternoon, declined to consider a lesser sentence than life in prison.
In October, Abdulmutallab pleaded guilty days after his trial began, saying he had wanted to avenge the killing of innocent Muslims by the United States.
Adbulmutallab wore a white t-shirt and skull cap and sat quietly taking notes on a legal pad during the proceedings.
Several passengers on the Christmas Day Delta flight told the crowded Detroit courtroom that they were haunted by the attempted attack three years later.
LeMare Mason, a Delta flight attendant who helped put out the fire caused by the bomb, said he was still suffering from night sweats and a dread of flying.
I had a dream job of travelling the world and meeting all types of people. This man stole and robbed form me the pleasure. It's punishment going to work now. It's not a joy, he told Edwards ahead of the sentencing.
Abdulmutallab, who has been held at a federal prison in Milan, Michigan since 2009, will also be given a chance to address the court before sentencing.
Prosecutors also last week offered new details about how Abdulmutallab's plot was directed by U.S.-born Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who had become an al Qaeda leader in Yemen.
Awlaki was killed in a drone attack in Yemen last September. In court papers, the FBI identified Awlaki as chief of external operations for al Qaeda's Yemen branch as well as an Internet-savvy propagandist and recruiter.
When the bomb caused a fire but failed to explode, Abdulmutallab was quickly subdued by passengers and crew. The incident led U.S. officials to bolster airport security, deploying full-body scanners to try to detect hidden explosives.
(Additional reporting by David Bailey; Editing by Anthony Boadle)