WASHINGTON - Badly burned and bleeding, the suspect in the Christmas day flight to Detroit tried one last gambit as he was led away: He claimed there was another bomb hidden on the plane he'd just tried to destroy, officials said.
There was no second bomb, federal agents learned after a tense search. But the Nigerian suspect's threat began hours of conversations that are now the subject of a fierce political debate over the right way to handle terrorism suspects.
Captured after a bomb hidden in his underwear ignited but failed to explode, Abdulmutallab spoke freely and provided valuable intelligence, officials said.
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, several 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 agents who responded to the scene.
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 expert counterterror interrogators and made no effort to involve the special unit, because it was not yet up and running.