plane in Amsterdam, Netherlands, and tried near the end of the nine-hour-flight to set off an explosion using PETN, also known as pentaerythritol, a high explosive.
The charges were brought in a make-shift court session at the University of Michigan Hospital, where the suspect was being treated for burns. He had bandages on his hands, spoke in English, and told the district attorney that he could not afford to pay for an attorney, according to a pool reporter who attended the session.
The explosive material PETN is similar to that used in the bombing attempt by the so-called shoe bomber in December 2001, Richard Reid.
Fellow passengers rushed to subdue the terrorist suspect after they heard popping sounds and saw smoke and fire coming from Abdulmutallab's seat.
Jasper Schuringa, a passenger, described how he jumped over other passengers and seats to get to him because he thought the man was trying to blow up the plane.
"The fire was getting worse. I grabbed the suspect out of the seat, to see if he was wearing any more explosives," Schuringa told CNN. "The cabin crew came with fire extinguishers and ... I helped put out the fire."
Schuringa and a cabin attendant grabbed Abdulmutallab and dragged him to the first class department, where "we stripped him ... to make sure he had nothing else," Schuringa said.
Abdulmutallab's father in Nigeria, a former government minister and bank official, said he had tipped US security authorities at the US embassy there about suspicions he had about his son, media reports said.
The ANP news agency in the Netherlands reported that the father, Alhaji Umaru Mutallab, had informed US authorities his son had studied in London but left Britain to travel. Although he did not know where his son planned to go, the banker from northern Nigeria said believed his son had been to Yemen.
British police have searched Abdulmutallab's apartment in London's West End, near Oxford Circus.
US justice officials, who interviewed passengers and crew of Flight 253 afterwards, said it appeared Abdulmutallab had gone to the bathroom for about 20 minutes. When he returned to his seat, he complained of stomach ache and pulled a blanket over his lap.
"Passengers then heard popping noises similar to firecrackers,smelled an odor, and some observed Abdulmutallabs pants leg and the wall of the airplane on fire," the statement said.
"Passengers reported that Abdulmutallab was calm and lucid throughout. One flight attendant asked him what he had had in his pocket, and he replied 'explosive device'," justice officials said.
FBI agents also recovered apparent remnants of a syringe from the vicinity of Abdulmutallab's seat, believed to have been part of the device, justice officials said in a statement.
"This alleged attack on a US airplane on Christmas Day shows that we must remain vigilant in the fight against terrorism at all times," Attorney General Eric Holder said. "Had this alleged plot to destroy an airplane been successful, scores of innocent people would have been killed or injured."
The federal criminal charges focussed on Abdulmutallab's alleged attempt to destroy the aircraft and on his placing a destructive device on the aircraft.
Abdulmutallab, who suffered burn wounds and was treated in hospital.