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The Mutallab Challenge

Posted on Jan 12, 2010
Nigerian-American demonstrators
AP / Paul Sancya

Rebranding Nigeria: Three Nigerian-Americans, including Follisito Ogunfiditimi, right, stand outside the Theordore Levin United States Courthouse in Detroit on Jan. 8, awaiting the scheduled court appearance of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian suspect who allegedly tried to set off an explosive device aboard Northwest 253 on Christmas Day over Detroit.

By Gbemisola Olujobi

Christmas 2009 was not particularly cheery in Nigeria. A poor economic climate, an epileptic power supply and scarcity of petroleum products ensured that the celebrations were low-key. As if these challenges were not enough, news of an attempted bombing of a U.S. airliner by a Nigerian filtered in on Christmas Day. The nation’s heart sank. For a country that is always in the news for all the wrong reasons, this was one wrong reason too many.

And the tag that has now been put on the country is a new one for Nigeria. Money laundering? Sadly, yes. Drug trafficking? Unfortunately, yes. Internet scamming? Another sad yes. But suicide bombing? Nigerians are not known to be suicidal. The typical Nigerian revolutionary is more interested in living for his ideals than in dying for them. This is because more often than not he wants a plum fallout, such as a cabinet position, for his troubles.

Besides, all Nigerian cultures teach the sanctity of human life and regard suicide as an act of cowardice, not of bravery. It is believed that only the Supreme Being gives life, and he alone reserves the right to take it, so neither your life nor your neighbor’s is yours to take. In pre-colonial times when anyone dared take his own life his corpse was dumped in the forest for animals and birds to feed on. It was considered an abomination to commit such a body to Mother Earth. And in cases of murder, exhaustive rituals were performed to cleanse the land of the desecration and appease the wronged soul. This usually would occur after the culprit and his family had been banished from the community. So, a suicide-murderer would not ordinarily be a Nigerian.

And certainly not one who comes from a well-heeled family. By all means an upper-class kid, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the last of 16 children, is the son of a respected banker. His father, Alhaji Umar Mutallab, a former federal finance minister, is the outgoing chairman of First Bank, Nigeria’s oldest bank, and new chairman of Nigeria’s first Islamic bank, Jaiz International. He is urbane and cosmopolitan in outlook (though a devout Muslim), and one of his wives is a Yemeni Arab.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab lived in a $2 million home in London, where he studied mechanical engineering at the University of London. He was privately educated at a prestigious boarding school: the British School, an elite college preparatory school in Lome, Togo. The school is attended exclusively by children of diplomats and wealthy Africans. Among his classmates was the daughter of Karl Hoffman, an adviser to Colin Powell, the former U.S. secretary of state.


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One of Abdulmutallab’s teachers, Michael Rimmer, a Briton who taught history there, describes the Lome school as “a lovely, lovely environment where Christians often joined in Islamic feasts and some of the best Christmas carolers were Muslims.”

It was, however, in this “lovely, lovely environment” that Abdulmutallab began to exhibit the first signs of extremism. A school friend recalls, “We were together in Lome when the twin towers crashed and we watched it on TV. … After the 9/11 thing, he actually defended the Taliban [sic] action, saying that they were provoked. Everyone thought he was kidding, but he stood his ground.”

By the time his father, who admits that his youngest son is “a stubborn young man,” noticed his extremism and started looking for help, Umar was already far gone. He had quit his MBA studies in Dubai for a seven-year Shariah program in Yemen, cut links with his family, spurned invitations to important family events such as his eldest brother’s wedding and his father’s 70th birthday, made contact with al-Qaida, which renamed him Umar Farouk al-Nigiri (the Nigerian), and was about to add a Yemeni bomb to his kitty.

Neighbors of the Mutallabs in Kaduna, a northern Nigerian city which is home to the family, speak highly of Umar, whom they fondly refer to as Ustaz (one who has a deep knowledge of Islam), and say he does not come across as someone who could hurt even a fly. According to a neighbor, “Anytime he is in the country, he only comes out to pray in the mosque and goes back into the house.”

At the mosque, which is a stone’s throw from the family house, the deputy imam, Ustaz Musa Dumawa, who says he has worked in the area for more that 37 years, was incredulous. He says, “… [T]his is where he [Abdulmutallab] prays anytime he is in the country. … [F]or all the time we have known him that he prayed in this mosque, he never exhibited any trait that would make anyone suspect that he shares the al-Qaida belief. … [H]e never for once made attempt to preach here in this mosque or even engaged anyone in a debate about Islam. He would just come, pray and leave like everyone else.”

Longtime friend Basiru Hamza says Abdulmutallab must have been misled into his new ways. Another family friend describes him as “an exemplary child, never putting any wrong foot forward, never offending anyone. He is always kind and devout.”

Ibrahim Lawal describes him as a deeply religious person who is particularly interested in the theoretical side of Islam. Lawal says of his friend, “He is very inquisitive. Always asking questions and always looking to learn new things. He didn’t keep many friends because he was very quiet and a bit shy. I don’t know where he went and became like this, but I don’t think he learnt it from home.”

According to Ustaz Dumawa, the al-Qaida brand of Islam is alien and un-Islamic. “Allah has not permitted anyone of us to kill ants, let alone a fellow human being.”

He agrees that Abdulmutallab “never acquired his Islamic knowledge here [in Nigeria].” He cautions Nigerian Muslim parents who send their children abroad to further their Islamic knowledge to be wary of the places and teachers their children learn from, as “experience has shown that they get these funny ideas about Islam from where they go to study.”

The general consensus in the country is that terrorism is not in the character of Nigerians and that Abdulmutallab certainly learned his strange beliefs and new way of life from friends he made abroad.

Even his family acknowledges that he recently evolved into a stranger. In a press statement, the family claims that his “disappearance and cessation of communication … are completely out of character and a very recent development, as before then … he had never shown any attitude, conduct or association that would give concern.” It was as soon as such concerns arose that his father took the step of reporting him to Nigerian security agencies and the American Embassy in Lagos for having extremist views and talking about a jihad.

There are, however, fears that terrorism may be creeping into Nigeria. Al-Qaida said in 2003 that it had marked Nigeria for “liberation.” The American CIA, citing Nigeria’s frequent sectarian troubles, predicted in 2005 that the country could explode and disintegrate in 15 years.

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DieDaily's avatar

By DieDaily, January 15, 2010 at 4:30 am Link to this comment

John, I’m certainly not for profiling. But your
method is useless. When an credentialed operative
walks the perp past all the security measures,
discussions of the security measures are simply moot.
Now, if you could design a Mole detector and force
all of our intelligence operatives to pass through it
once a week, you’d be the savior of the free,
peaceful world.

Just as in the Fort Hood shooting case, none of your
screening science would be worth one iota. Like
Mutallab, the Fort Hood shooter had magical powers.
He was free for years to promote Jihad and correspond
by email with our Arab Foreign Legion…excuse me, I
mean with Al Qaeda. Magical powers always spells
PATSY. And since the patsy is either sedated or has
no idea he’s about to be used as a patsy in a drill
gone live, all of your gestural biometrics are
completely useless anyway due to the total lack of
foreknowledge and complete absence of sinister

You are falling for the classic canard that we can
“scientific dictator” our way out of these incredibly
simple to solve problems. Trillions have now been
spent on these systems and they don’t work, because
they don’t protect against insider exploits. It would
require two utterly independent and competing
sniffing agencies to stop insiders. We need more
cameras and software, sure, but we need them inside
government offices filming our servants in office.
That would solve virtually everything overnight.

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By John Byrnes, January 14, 2010 at 4:26 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

We don’t need profiling to identify Individuals like the Christmas-Day Bomber!

Virtually all media outlets are discussing whether we should be profiling all Arab Muslims; I will in the one-page explain why we don’t need profiling. Over 15 years ago, we at the Center for Aggression Management developed an easily-applied, measurable and culturally-neutral body language and behavior indicators exhibited by people who intend to perpetrate a terrorist act.  This unique methodology utilizes proven research from the fields of psychology, medicine and law enforcement which, when joined together, identify clear, easily-used physiologically-based characteristics of individuals who are about to engage in terrorist activities in time to prevent their Moment of Commitment.

The Problem
Since the foiled terrorist attack by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian national on Northwest Flight 253 to Detroit, the President has repeatedly stated that there has been a systemic failure as he reiterates his commitment to fill this gap in our security.  This incident, like the Fort Hood shooting, exemplifies why our government must apply every valid preventative approach to identify a potential terrorist.

The myriad methods to identify a terrorist, whether “no-fly list,” “explosive and weapons detection,” mental illness based approaches, “profiling” or “deception detection” - all continue to fail us.  Furthermore, the development of deception detection training at Boston Logan Airport demonstrated that the Israeli methods of interrogation will not work in the United States.

All media outlets are discussing the need for profiling of Muslim Arabs, but profiling does not work for the following three reasons:

1.  In practice, ethnic profiling tells us that within a certain group of people there is a higher probability for a terrorist; it does not tell us who the next terrorist is!

2.  Ethnic profiling is contrary to the value our society places on diversity and freedom from discrimination based on racial, ethnic, religious, age and/or gender based criteria. If we use profiling it will diminish our position among the majority of affected citizens who support us as a beacon of freedom and liberty.

3.  By narrowing our field of vision, profiling can lead to the consequence of letting terrorists go undetected, because the terrorist may not be part of any known “profile worthy” group – e.g., the Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy McVeigh

The Solution
Our unique methodology for screening passengers can easily discern (independently of race, ethnicity, religious affiliation, age, and gender) the defining characteristics of human beings who are about to engage in terrorist acts.

The question is when will our government use true “hostile intent” through the “continuum of aggressive behavior” to identify potential terrorists?  Only when observers focus specifically on “aggressive behavior” do the objective and culturally neutral signs of “aggression” clearly stand out, providing the opportunity to prevent these violent encounters. This method will not only make all citizens safer, but will also pass the inevitable test of legal defensibility given probable action by the ACLU.

As our Government analyzes what went wrong regarding Abdulmatallab’s entrance into the United States, you can be assured that Al Qaeda is also analyzing how their plans went wrong.  Who do you think will figure it out first . . . ?

Visit our blog at where we discuss the shooting at Fort Hood and the attempted terrorist act on Flight 253.

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By gadees, January 14, 2010 at 3:35 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Why is it that terrorism only flourishs in corrupt regimes?, most striking however, is the fact that potetial terrorists do come from countries friendly to the US.In the developing world, America is commonly associated with abusive and corrupt regimes and in those countries Al-Qaeda find its safe have Like Yemen.Dictatorship is the source of all ils including terrorism

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By Archie1954, January 13, 2010 at 11:26 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

While they are researching the reasons for this deviant behaviour maybe they will find out why
Nigerians are so involved in bank fraud. I am tired of steering my friends and associates away from these mail frauds. One of them actually, believe it or not, sent $68,000 to Nigeria which he never saw again. I know there is a sucker born every minute but this is ridiculous!

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DieDaily's avatar

By DieDaily, January 13, 2010 at 7:43 am Link to this comment

Pretty good article. It get’s one close enough that one
can leap for the truth…i.e. yet another PATSY in a
drill gone live.

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Trailing Begonia's avatar

By Trailing Begonia, January 13, 2010 at 6:41 am Link to this comment

Scarcity of petroleum products in Nigeria?  How exactly did that happen when Nigeria is a country rich with a oil, a fact all too well-known to the likes of Shell, EXXON, BP et al?

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