US plane bomber wanted to study sharia
Abuja, December 30, 2009
The Nigerian charged with trying to blow up a US airliner planned to study Islamic law in Yemen, the Arabian peninsular state which is fighting a local branch of al Qaeda, the Nigerian government said.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, lived in Yemen from August to December after obtaining a visa to study Arabic there, the Yemeni government said.
Nigeria's information minister said Abdulmutallab, the son of a wealthy banker, had at one point appeared to want to study sharia in Yemen long-term.
"After a few weeks he now sent a message to (his) parents that he wanted to stay back and study sharia for seven years and the father said no, you can't do that," Dora Akunyili told reporters in the Nigerian capital Abuja.
"The father said they were not ready to send him school fees or money for upkeep, that he should go back to Dubai and complete his masters. (But Abdulmutallab) said he was going to get everything free," she said.
A wing of al Qaeda based in Yemen said it was behind the failed Christmas Day bombing of a Delta Airlines plane, which was meant to avenge US attacks on the group, according to a web statement.
The Yemeni government, which is fighting Shi'ite rebels in the north and faces separatist sentiment in the south, said the country could be home to up to 300 al Qaeda militants, some of whom may be planning attacks on the West.
"Of course there are a number of al Qaeda operatives in Yemen and some of their leaders. We realise this danger," Foreign Minister Abubakr al-Qirbi told BBC radio.
"And they may actually plan for attacks like the one we have just had in Detroit."
Yemen has been a long-standing base of support for al Qaeda.
Militants bombed the Navy warship USS Cole in the Yemeni port of Aden in 2000, killing 17 US sailors, and Yemenis were one of the largest groups to train in al Qaeda's camps in Afghanistan before September 11, 2001 attacks.
Abdulmutallab studied at the British School in Lome, Togo, a boarding school mostly for expatriates and students from around West Africa, before reading engineering at University College London (UCL).
He had been studying for a masters degree in Dubai when he told his parents he was going to Yemen to study Arabic.
Akunyili said Abdulmutallab continued communicating with his family after going to Yemen but when he saw his parents were vehemently opposed to his remaining there, he cut communication.
"The parents got very worried and it came to a break when he sent a text message that he did not want to communicate with them any more," Akunyili said.
"They tried everything to go to Yemen and bring him back, and when they failed, they reported him to the security agencies. The reason for that report was to help bring back the child to Nigeria."
His postings on websites such as Facebook and Islamist chatrooms, examined by the Washington Post, expose the thoughts of an apparently lonely youth torn between extreme Islamic views and liberalism.
"I feel depressed and lonely. I do not know what to do. And then I think this loneliness leads me to other problems," a January 2005 posting said.
Using the name Farouk1986, Abdulmutallab wrote of plans to apply to Stanford and other leading US universities and of his "dilemma between liberalism and extremism" as a devout Muslim, the Post reported.
Nigeria has been keen to distance itself from the bomb plot, with the information minister saying the fact that Abdulmutallab was abroad and had cuts ties with his parents "confirms what we have been saying, that the boy did not have backing from here".
"The boy was not enlisted in Nigeria, was not trained in Nigeria, was not supported by Nigerians, not even by his parents," Akunyili said.
Abdulmutallab's family said in a statement on Monday they had lost contact with their son while he was studying abroad and reported his disappearance to Nigerian security agencies about two months ago and to foreign agencies a few weeks later.
His father has been meeting with Nigerian and US intelligence agencies in Abuja since the attack on the plane, which was carrying almost 300 people from Amsterdam to Detroit.
He bought his ticket to Detroit -- leaving from Nigeria's commercial hub Lagos and changing planes in Amsterdam -- in Accra, Ghana, on December 16, paying the $2,831 price in cash, Nigerian aviation officials have said.
Abdulmutallab's privileged upbringing contrasted sharply with many of his compatriots. In Africa's most populous nation, an estimated 140 million people live on les than $2 a day. – Reuters