It was the maximum penalty for trying to kill almost 300 people Christmas Day 2009 aboard a Detroit-bound airliner.
The Detroit News said U.S. Judge Nancy Edmunds told a packed courtroom it appeared Abdulmutallab's intentions appeared to be unchanged, but "I can control his opportunity to act on those intentions."
The defendant didn't react to the sentence, only saying "God is Great!" and being led from the courtroom, the News said.
The newspaper said the man told the courtroom before his sentencing, "My life and lives of Muslims have also changed due to U.S. attacks. I am not a U.S. government patty [sic]." He also said he still believed Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki, both killed by the United States, are still alive.
The Nigerian student pleaded guilty in October to trying to use a bomb in his underwear to blow up Northwest Airlines Flight 253 as it approached Detroit's Metro Airport on Christmas Day in 2009. The defendant was the only person injured with a severely burned groin.
He will likely be sent to the Supermax federal prison in Florence, Colo., which houses foreign and domestic terrorists including Unabomber Ted Kaczynski and Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols, the News said.
His legal adviser has argued a life sentence is too harsh because no one was killed in the attempted bombing.
Abdulmutallab, who came from an affluent family in Nigeria, joined al-Qaida after watching Internet videos produced by radical cleric Awlaki, prosecutors said.
His parents arrived in Detroit Tuesday. Adolph Mongo, a jury and media consultant who met with the family, said Abdulmutallab has refused to see his parents, but the family planned to attend the sentencing in support of their son, the newspaper reported.