AFP20100108619001 Lagos TheNews in English 04 Jan 10 - 11 Jan 10 pp 18, 19, 24-25, 28-31
[Report by Olusola Olaosebikan and Maduabuchi Nmeriben: "The Making of a Bomber"]
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s failed bid to bomb an airplane with 289 people on board lends credence to fears that Nigeria is a fertile ground for al-Qaeda recruitment
When he boarded the plane in Amsterdam in the Netherlands, his mien and carriage portrayed innocence. This conferred on Farouk Abdulmutallab, son of Alhaji Umar Mutallab, former chairman of First Bank Nigeria plc, a degree of evasiveness.
And this appears to be his strength. The 23-year-old was considered incapable of causing any harm until last Christmas when Farouk, in a failed attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound airline, was caught with an explosive device that contained pentaerythritol tetra nitrate [PETN].
Farouk had bought a Lagos-Amsterdam-Detroit-Lagos ticket of KLM Airline in Accra, Ghana. He then returned to Lagos afterwards to travel to Amsterdam, reportedly without luggage. At Amsterdam, Farouk was believed to have obtained the material necessary to assemble his explosive. Thereafter, he boarded the Detroit-bound Northwest Airline flight 253 from Amsterdam.
While in the plane, Farouk reportedly visited the rest room frequently. At a point, he returned to his seat, behaved as if he had a stomach upset and covered himself up with a blanket. Suddenly, fire erupted from his thigh region and other passengers became startled. However, Jaspter Schuringa, a Dutch tourist, noticed the mischief in Farouk. He lunged himself on Farouk, putting out the fire before alerting the cabin crew.
"I pulled the object from him and tried to extinguish the fire with my hands and threw it away," Schuringa said. Farouk was promptly arrested and taken to the Ann Arbor University Hospital, where he was treated for bums sustained during the misadventure. He was subsequently arraigned and charged with attempting to destroy an aircraft by placing a destructive device in the plane.
Farouk admitted that he has ties with the al-Qaeda network, corroborating an earlier statement by the group that it was responsible for the attack. Though he faces a $250,000 fine and up to 20 years in prison, if convicted, Farouk remains recalcitrant. Three days after his attempt to bomb the airline and all of its passengers and 11 crew members was thwarted, he reportedly declared that even if he is prosecuted and jailed, other trained terrorists would finish the job very soon.
"I am one in a production line of terrorists that have been trained in Yemen by al-Qaeda," Farouk boasted. In one of his Internet postings, as published by London’s Daily Mirror, he said: "I won’t go into too many details about my fantasy, but basically they are jihad fantasies. I imagine how the great jihad will take place, how the Muslims will win, Allah willing, and rule the whole world and establish the greatest empire once again."
His family has remained shattered by the news of his arrest, wondering why such a child with a sound parental monitoring would delve into fundamentalism. So also were his classmates, friends, and neighbors. Until recently, Farouk was relatively unknown. Even as the son of a frontline bank executive, he remained in the background. His involvement in the attempt to blow up a North West Airlines Flight 253 in Detroit, USA, last Christmas, however, opened up the world of a complex character that had constantly craved an identity of his own.
One of 16 children, Farouk had, from childhood, held on to his religious beliefs. As a secondary school student at the British International School in Lome, Togo, Farouk was reported to be an unflinching preacher of the tenets of Islam. He would occasionally gather his schoolmates around, preaching the gospel to them, earning himself the sobriquet of an Alfa in the process.
Farouk was so convinced of his religious ideology that he stood on the side of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan until they were deposed by a US-led coalition in 2001 after the 11 September terrorist attacks on the U.S. According to Michael Rimmer, one of Farouk’s teachers in Togo, "I remember he thought that the Taliban were okay, whereas all the other Muslim kids at school thought they were a bunch of nuts."
He said that Farouk had been among a number of pupils he had taken to London in 2001 and 2002, when aged 13 and 14.
At one stage on the trip, Farouk had become upset because several older students had visited a pub and he thought it should not have been allowed on religious grounds. Mr. Rimmer said that rather than spend money on souvenirs in London, Farouk had donated £50 to an orphanage. "At one stage, his nickname was "the Pope".
In one way, it’s totally unsuitable because he’s a Muslim, but he did have this saintly aura. He was a model student, very keen, enthusiastic, and loved the subject I taught him; history, and would often stay behind after lessons to discuss items in the lesson or in the news," he said.
He added that Farouk started to express extremist views after the 9/11. "I remember in 2001 there was a class discussion about the Taliban in Afghanistan. All the other children, including all the Muslims thought they were a bunch of nuts with beards, but he thought they had it right and thought their views were acceptable. At the time I thought, well, young people have silly views and he would grow out of it." The teacher was quoted by the Daily Mail:
"I was angry at the nutters who had put these silly ideas in his head but also angry with him because he had wonderful parents and comes from a lovely family with lots of friends and had everything going for him." Yet Rimmer described Farouk as keen, enthusiastic, bright and polite. "He was every teacher’s dream," he said.
Ustaz Mohammed Adamu, 78, is the Imam of the mosque where Farouk worshiped whenever he was in Nigeria for holidays. In fact, it was Farouk’s father who built the mosque in the early 1970s and made Adamu the Imam in 1973 to lead prayers there.
Adamu revealed: "Abdul Farouk is from a rich home yet he doesn’t see himself as one. He was humble to Islamic teachings. And throughout the periods he was home, I never saw any sign of extremism in him. I think he was a victim of alien indoctrination."
The Imam said that he was "very sad and confused and yet to come to terms with the reality that a fine gentleman like Farouk could be cajoled to kill fellow human beings."
Farouk was admitted to study Mechanical Engineering at the University College in London [UCL] in September 2005. At this stage, Farouk felt some measure of self-confidence and independence. He cut all forms of communication with his parents. At the same time, he remained very devout and committed to his beliefs.
According to Fabrizio Cavallo Marincola, 22, one of his classmates at the UCL, Farouk was very religious. "When we were studying, he always would go off to pray. He was pretty quiet and didn’t socialize much or have a girlfriend that I knew of," Marincola said.
While Marincola and Farouk’s other school mates socialized, Farouk was busy seeking a link with al-Qaeda, the international terrorists’ cell headed by Osama bin Laden. Thus, upon graduation from the UCL in June 2008, Farouk began a tour of Egypt, Dubai, and Yemen.
In Dubai, Farouk was enrolled to study for a Master of Business Administration [MBA] degree at the University of Wollongong, Dubai, but he spurned the offer after about seven months. This magazine gathered that by this time, he had already established a formidable link with a terrorist cell in Yemen.
It was at this point that he reportedly declared to his family members that he did not want to have anything to do with any of them again. As a matter of fact, each time he visited Nigeria, he was said to have avoided his family home. His frequent sneaks in and out of the country was said to have been part of the training and instructions he received from al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen.
Farouk’s state of mind has been revealed in series of electronic mails that he sent out to his colleagues and accomplices, complaining that he was "lonely" and had "never found a true Muslim friend."
Washington Post reported that when he was at the boarding school around January 2005, he was usually whining: "I have no one to speak to [sic], no one to consult, no one to support me, and I feel depressed and lonely. I do not know what to do. And then I think this loneliness leads me to other problems."
The newspaper revealed 300 online postings of the young man under the name "farouk1986" (a combination of his middle name and birth year). He raised issues like love and marriage, his college ambitions and" disenchantment over standardized testing, as well as his inner struggle as a devout Muslim between liberalism and extremism."
Taken together, the writings, according to Washington Post, demonstrate an acute awareness of Western customs and a worldliness befitting Farouk’s privileged upbringing as a wealthy Nigerian banker’s son. In a June 2005 posting, Farouk wrote that he was in Yemen for a three-month Arabic course, saying that "it is just great."
At 18, he wrote, he had not started searching for prospective partners because of social norms such as having "a degree, a job, a house, etc. before getting married." But, he said: "My parents, I know could help me financially should I get married, even though I think they are also not going to be in favor of early marriage."
He also wrote of his "dilemma between liberalism and extremism" as a Muslim. "The Prophet (5) said that religion is easy and anyone who tries to overburden themselves will find it hard and will not be able to continue," he wrote in 2005. "So any time I relax, I deviate sometimes and then when I strive hard, I get tired of what I am doing i.e. memorizing the Quran, etc. How should one put the balance right?"
In December 2005, Farouk had written that his parents were visiting him in London and that he was torn about whether he could eat meat with them. "I am of the view that meat not slaughtered by Muslims is haram (forbidden) for consumption unless necessary," he wrote. "My parents are of the view that as foreigners, we are allowed to eat any meat. It occurred [sic] to me that I should not be eating with my parents as they use meat I consider haram. But I fear this might cause division and other complicated family problems." He pleaded: "Please respond as quickly as possible as my tactic has been to eat outside and not at home till I get an answer."
An uncle said of him: "Farouk was a devoted Muslim who took his religion seriously and was committed to his studies. He was such a brilliant boy and nobody in the family had the slightest thought that he could do something as insane as this."
Comrade Shehu Sani, one-time leader of the Federation of Kaduna Students and president of the Civil Rights Congress in Kaduna, who was Farouk’s neighbor, revealed that the young man is popularly called Ustaz for his religious disposition. Farouk, according to Sani, "hardly socializes like other young boys on our street.
He’s most often seen in the mosque, which is just about 50 meters away (from the activist’s house). And that mosque, built by his father, is situated in an institute called Rabiat Mutallab Institute of Islamic Studies."
Sani added that Farouk is noted as someone who always comes to the mosque earlier than anyone and leaves late. He is also noticed as someone who prays fervently. "Within our neighborhood, we have what is called Hamman Pategi Neighborhood Association. He hardly attends any of these meetings even though the association was established by young men in our neighborhood.
When the news of his failed plot to bomb the Northwest Airline became open, residents in our neighborhood were shocked because he had never worn any look that could give a clue as to what was in his mind." Farouk, as the activist put it, is very trendy, sometimes fashionable and, in some cases, very simple. If he was not in the mosque, you either saw him going to his father’s house or riding his motorbike around the neighborhood.
"Frankly, the report of him attempting to blow up a plane came to many as a surprise, but they could later link his act to his serious devotion to religion," Sani argued.
Even his teacher in Yemen, Ahmed Moajjib, said that Farouk was a ‘‘very quiet student, who was extremely smart, liked to help others and was not frivolous. He did not appear suicidal, depressed or frustrated."
Worried by his son’s activities, especially his descent into radical Islamic ideologies, Farouk’s father was said to have informed all relevant local and foreign intelligence and security agencies about five months ago. But the security and intelligence agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Central Intelligence Agency failed to sufficiently watch Farouk’s activities.
However, the United States Homeland Security Secretary, Janet Napolitano, reacted that "the system worked" - a position which the United States President Obama said was "totally unacceptable." Obama, according to an Associated Press report, said the intelligence community had bits of information that should have been pieced together that would have triggered "red flags" and possibly prevented the Christmas Day attempted terror attack.
The National Counter-terrorism Centre said of Farouk’s father’s warning: "We learned of him in November, when his father came to the US Embassy in Nigeria and sought help in finding him. We did not have his name before then." CIA spokesman, George Little, said that Farouk’s father didn’t say his son was a terrorist, let alone was planning an attack. The official said: "I’m not aware of some magic piece of intelligence that suddenly would have flagged this guy, whose name nobody even had until November, as a killer en route to America, let alone something that anybody withheld."
According to another report, officials also noted that Amsterdam, where Farouk boarded his flight to Detroit, "is one of nine locations where US Customs and Border Protection officials are stationed to do additional screening on U.S-bound passengers who have been flagged as a potential risk."
But it is unlikely Farouk would have been flagged because, as the report put it, the Customs and Border Patrol officers do not routinely screen all passengers against the names of individuals on the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment database, known as TIDE, which was the only place that Farouk was listed. But at the U.S end, the government put in place enhanced screening procedures for passengers after the Sept 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington to catch potential terrorists."
Meanwhile, the Yemeni Information Minister, Hassan al-Lozy, blamed the U.S. for Yemen’s failure to identify Farouk as a terror suspect. "We didn’t get any notice from the Americans to put this man on a list," al-Lozy said. "America should have told Yemen about this man."
This is because, as AI-Lozy argued, Farouk received a Yemeni visa to study Arabic after authorities were reassured that he had "several visas from a number of countries that we are cooperating with in the fight against terror". He added that the young man had a valid visa to the United States, which he had visited in the past. "Our investigators are looking into who were the people or parties that were in touch with Umar here," al-Lozy told the AP.
Why Northern Nigeria is a Fertile Ground for Al-Qaeda Recruitment
The case of Farouk should be an eye-opener for all concerned authorities that there may be thousands of potential terrorist hands multiplying by the day in that part of the country. Those who hold this view have heir reasons. In fact many of then claim that al-Qaeda is alive in Nigeria. Does the Farouk drama mean that al-Qaeda is present and well integrated in Nigeria?
When the US. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton visited Nigeria on 12 August 2009, she warned that al-Qaeda might have a foothold in Nigeria. In her words: "There is no doubt in our mind that al-Qaeda and like organisations that are part of the syndicate of terror would seek a foothold anywhere they could find one, and whether that is the case here or whether this is a homegrown example of fundamentalist extremism - that’s up to the Nigerians to determine."
In fact, Time magazine (7 July 2003 edition) reported that while East Africa is now a known theatre of operations, "West Africa offers a broad new range of opportunities - as Osama bin Laden pointed out in February, when in a taped message he singled out Nigeria as a country ripe for "liberation" by his followers.
Nigeria could be a fertile ground for al-Qaeda - half the population is Muslim, antagonistic to its own government over issues such as corruption and enraged by the US invasion of Iraq. The Islamist challenge there is growing, with provincial governments instituting Taliban-style Sharia law and the political system increasingly in crisis."
Reverend Ladi Thompson, the General Overseer of Living Water Unlimited Church and head of Macedonia Initiative, a faith-based non-governmental organisation, said yes with reasons. He cited the riot at Jos North and concluded that it was not political at all. In his words: "If you go to Jos North, where the election took place, there was no burning of political vehicles or secretariats.
They did not burn the electoral office where the election took place in Jos. It was in the middle of the night that people started hearing Allahu Akbar." He added that the carnage that started in Jos could have been worse.
"Had the militants that struck in Jos just arrived on the day of the incident? Did they just arrive on the night of the incident? No, they had been camped in Jos. The reason that these things are not well reported like I said is that the terror element has been infiltrated into the Nigerian government, including the security branches," he said.
Thompson gave another reason to support the presence of al-Qaeda in Nigeria. As he put it: "If you go to the United States report on the 9/11, Nigeria was mentioned in the official report. Nigeria was mentioned because there were some Nigerians that were directly trained by bin Laden. Beyond the training of Nigerians by bin Laden, the evidence of terror in Nigeria is obvious. One was even arrested in Cairo with pictures of key installations in Nigeria."
He mentioned the Boko Haram, one of the sects operating in Nigeria, as boasting of 1.6 million followers. "Where are the rest? Why was Yusuf summarily executed without any trial? I want to say point blank that if Yusuf was allowed to talk, many people in high positions in the government would be indicted, including people in the security forces.
Had he not been arrested before? He was arrested before and taken to Abuja, but was released. Who are the people who worked for his release?" Thompson asked. The aim of the fundamentalists, the pastor argued, is to Islamize the whole country. To him, they want Sharia in every state of this country.
If Thompson and others are right, then why is the North truly a fertile ground for al-Qaeda recruitment? Dr. Adeoye Oyewole, a psychiatrist at the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology Teaching Hospital, Osogbo in Osun State, argued that Northern youths like
Farouk could be suffering from maladaptive coping mechanism. According to him, lack of warmth from the family is one of the factors that could lead to such action.
"This is because some of the rich parents don’t have time for their children, so such children are not able to connect with the parents, especially when the need arises and as such, may want to commit suicide," he explained. Sani of the Civil Rights Congress agreed with Oyewole.
He explained that in Kaduna, there are hundreds of youth or young people that are either sponsored by their parents or are under scholarship to study in countries such as Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Dubai. Farouk, according to him, is simply one of these young men and the difference he made was the failed plot.
He, therefore, advised that when rich people send their wards outside the country to study, it is imperative for them to monitor the kind of activities they engage in, in the interest of the safety of the country and the whole world. They should also ensure that the tuition fees and other monies they send for the upkeep of their wards "are not converted for training of one form of terrorist act or another."
Farouk’s case is, as Sani explained, a special one in the sense that terrorism will flourish where there are resources to back it up. "Young people from poor homes don’t have the $5,000 to buy flight ticket to move from Lagos to Holland, so they unleash their own terror at the local level. But if you have the resources, it would simply help you to move further. This clearly indicates that young people of rich parental background are simply those who are privileged to take their own ideas to the next level," he submitted.
Another reason that the North is believed to be a fertile ground for al-Qaeda incendiaries is the failure of the government security agencies to monitor Nigeria’s borders. TheNEWS reliably gathered that most of the fundamentalists (especially Boko Haram) are illegal immigrants from neighboring Niger Republic and Chad.
According to a top security chief who craved anonymity, "They came into Kano a long time ago with the sole aim of corrupting the minds of unsuspecting Muslim faithful with their nefarious agenda. I must tell you that this group, Aljawus, has a global network. Their agenda as can be deduced from their mode of operation is to devastate the world and they see northern Nigerian borders porous enough to troop into the country and wreak havoc."
Moreover, as Sani put it, "there is no government agency or security agency that has a profile of the number of people that have been going out to the Middle East and Far East in search of knowledge or any other reason. It is only when they are back here and mayhem is unleashed that people talk."
He cited the case of a group of young men and women mostly educated in Pakistan and Afghanistan who, five years ago, picked up arms and called themselves the Talibans. They unleashed mayhem on the people until they were cautioned. "You can see that we live in a society where we only remember things when they happen and then we forget them until another one happens.
There is no mechanism, there is no structure to make sure that things do not happen again," he said. There are also groups that have affiliations with some countries and their activities are never monitored and as such, they became sources of breeding violence, he added.
Sani gave another interpretation to the problem of failed leadership. As he put it, successive governments had failed to provide the atmosphere that would make every Nigerian have a sense of belonging. People have lost hope in their leaders and the system and as such, Islamic fundamentalism has been considered an alternative to most of these problems.
"When you have people with these problems and mentality and who are governed by corrupt leaders that have no vision and desire to address all these problems mentioned, the result is what we see in the crises that occur in the region always," he argued. He added that situations where most of the time money voted as security votes is usually used to settle political cronies rather than for gathering intelligence or curbing any form of crisis that arises is regrettable.
Moreover, the refusal of the government to implement the probe panel reports on past religious crises is, as the human rights activist argued, highly responsible for the disposition of some people to misguided ideologies like Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism.
Thompson lamented that even the National Reconciliation Committee that was set up by former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, achieved nothing. "If Nigeria has to move forward we have to address this issue," he quipped.