The trial of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the so-called underwear bomber, is set to begin Tuesday.
The Nigerian native is charged with trying to blow up Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on Christmas Day in 2009.
Abdulmutallab is acting as his own attorney in the trial, though prosecutors have his confession, dozens of witnesses, and a video of him explaining his suicide mission.
Alain Gohnda was a passenger on the plane and witnessed the bombing attempt.
"I saw a big flame coming out of his clothes, and he had his hand like he was moving something or doing something. So, I yelled 'He's a terrorist!'" Gohnda recalled.
The device caused smoke and fire, but it did not explode.
U.S. officials believe Abdulmutallab wanted to blow up the plane just seven minutes before landing in Detroit.
The charges against him include conspiracy to commit terrorism and attempted use of weapons of mass destruction.
"America is so attuned to terrorism now, and you have a very high profile case," noted Peter Henning, a professor at Wayne State University Law School. "Can you seat a jury that will be able to fairly decide this defendant's fate?"
The well-educated 27-year-old Nigerian is believed to have been directed by American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.
The CIA and U.S. military targeted the terrorist leader in a Sept. 30 airstrike in Yemen, delivering a major blow to al Qaeda.
Following the airstrike, the State Department issued a worldwide travel alert over concerns that al-Awlaki's death could provoke revenge attacks against Americans at home and abroad.
Abdulmutallab is being tried in a civilian court.
If he's convicted, it would bolster the argument that terrorists should be tried in civilian not military courts.
"I believe that someone deserves justice after trying to kill 283 people," Ghonda. "So, justice will be served to him."