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At issue: Rights of Christmas bomb plot suspect

WASHINGTON - For hours after allegedly trying to use a bomb hidden in his underwear to blow up a Christmas Day flight to Detroit, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab talked and talked - to customs officers, medical personnel and FBI agents.

He spoke openly about what he'd done and why, and provided valuable intelligence, U.S. officials told The Associated Press in a series of interviews that spell out for the first time the details of Abdulmutallab's arrest and questioning on Dec. 25.

Badly burned and bleeding, the suspect tried one last gambit as he was taken from the plane: He claimed there was another bomb hidden on board, officials said. There was no second bomb, federal agents learned after a tense search.

But the Nigerian suspect's threat set off a series of conversations that are now part of a fierce political debate over the right way to handle terror suspects.

The bomb had severely burned Abdulmutallab, but he was conscious. As he was taken from the scene, federal agents repeatedly interviewed him or heard him speak to others. But when they read him his legal rights nearly 10 hours after the incident, he went silent.

Since the attempted bombing, prominent lawmakers have argued he should have been placed immediately in military custody, and the nation's top intelligence official said he should have been questioned by a special group of terror investigators, rather than the FBI.

The officials who spoke to the AP said on-scene investigators never discussed turning the suspect over to military authorities. And their accounts show that as the hours passed, the FBI turned to its own local expert counterterror interrogators, rather than seek bureau personnel to fly in from Washington or elsewhere.

Abdulmutallab's attorney, Miriam Siefer, did not immediately return a message left yesterday for comment.

Here is what officials say happened:

Shortly after noon, federal agents were told Northwest Airlines Flight 253 had arrived in Detroit from Amsterdam with a passenger who had lit an explosive device on the aircraft.

After being restrained and stripped bare by fellow passengers and crew, Abdulmutallab was handed over to Customs and Border Protection officers and police. The officers and an ambulance crew took him to the burn unit at the University of Michigan Medical Center.

Along the way, Abdulmutallab repeatedly made incriminating statements. He told the customs officers he had acted alone on the plane and had been trying to take down the aircraft.

Abdulmutallab arrived at the hospital just before 2 p.m. Still under guard, he told a doctor treating him that he had tried to trigger the explosive. He said it didn't cause a blast, but instead began popping and ignited a fire on his groin and legs.

FBI agents from the Detroit bureau arrived at the hospital around 2:15 and were briefed by the customs agents and officers as Abdulmutallab received medical treatment. Shortly after 3:30, FBI agents began interviewing him in his hospital room, joined by a customs officer and an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent. He spoke openly, said one official, in detail about what he'd done and the planning that went into the attack.

Other officials said it was during this questioning that he admitted he had been trained and instructed in the plot by al-Qaida operatives in Yemen.

After having rested and received more extensive medical treatment, Abdulmutallab was told of his right to remain silent and right to have an attorney.

He remained silent.

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