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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

(Page 2)

Nigeria is certainly no stranger to religious upheavals. Many will recall the lives that were lost in the bloodbath that broke out in reaction to cartoons which depicted the Prophet Muhammad in a Danish publication in 2006 and the riots which greeted the scheduling of a Miss World contest during the month of Ramadan in 2002. And even as Abdulmutallab’s folly was unfolding, there was mayhem in Bauchi, another northern, predominantly Muslim city. A clash between an Islamic sect called Kala-Kato and security personnel claimed more than 40 lives within two days.

In a country whose population, sharply divided along religious and ethnic lines, hardly ever agrees on anything, condemnation of Abdulmutallab and his strange act has been unanimous. The most damning of these criticisms have come from his kith and kin and the Muslim Ulama.

The district head of Funtua (the Mutallabs’ hometown), Sambo Idris, expressed shock and regret. A Funtua-based Islamic scholar, Aminu Liman, condemned acts of terror and described them as un-Islamic. Residents of Funtua also joined other Nigerians to condemn Abdulmutallab’s action. Funtua is in the largely Muslim Katsina state, in the north of Nigeria.

The Muslim Public Affairs Center, an independent Muslim organization based in Kano, another northern Muslim city, also condemned all acts of terrorism and described them as “a complete violation of the teachings of Islam.”


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A statement by Disu Kamor, the organization’s director of media and communications, says that “all attacks that threaten peace, or are aimed at civilian targets, even in a state of war are terrorism. We repudiate anyone or group that plans or carries out a terrorist act and we welcome early actions by law enforcement authorities against credible threats to the safety of the travelling public.”

The group also calls on Muslims to “rally together to positively and constructively intervene with our youth to make sure they have a good understanding of Islam so that no extremists will prey upon them.”

The secretary-general of the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs in Nigeria, Dr. Lateef Adegbite, says “we are embarrassed by this incident and we strongly condemn the alleged action by this young man. … We do not think there is any organized Islamic group in Nigeria that is inclined to such a criminal and violent act. We condemn such an extreme viewpoint and action.”

An Islamic scholar and chief missioner of the Ansar-Ul-Deen Society of Nigeria, Sheik Abdul-Rahman Ahmad, says “hijacking, targeting of innocent people, violence and murder are not acceptable in Islam.”

The director of the Muslim Rights Concern, Dr. Is-haq Akintola, also condemns all acts of terrorism, which he describes as “inhuman and animalistic.”

A group that calls itself “We condemn Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s action: Nigerians are not terrorists” chose Facebook, the popular social networking website, to denounce his “un-Nigerian act.” Thousands signed up to join the group barely hours after it was created. The group decries the “behavior of a lone numbskull who has just dragged Nigeria’s already sodden image more into the mud.”

Since a “technical fault,” as acknowledged by his principals, botched his attempt, thank goodness, the one thing Abdulmutallab may have succeeded in doing is putting a stick in the wheel of the Rebranding Nigeria Project, an ambitious image program aimed at projecting a healthy and positive face of Nigeria to the world.

The campaign has been primarily targeted at Nigerians in the interest of achieving a character reorientation and attitudinal change. If Abdulmutallab can be taken as the average Nigerian, managers of the program may have actually been flogging a dead horse all along.

Information Minister Dora Akunyili, who started the rebranding program, is understandably peeved. She refers to Abdulmutallab as “a stranger” who “sneaked” in and out of the country. A statement from her office says the federal government of Nigeria received news of the bomb attempt “with dismay” and that “Nigeria as a nation abhors all forms of terrorism.”

The vice president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, has ordered all security agencies to investigate the incident and cooperate fully with U.S. investigations. (The president, Umaru Musa YarAdua, is away in Saudi Arabia for health reasons.)

The Nigerian Senate also denounces Abdulmutallab’s act, saying, “We condemn this strange act of terrorism in very strong terms and we are at a loss where he got this strange habit from,” and warns that “nobody should import fundamentalism into Nigeria under any guise.”

The Senate urges the international community to “treat him [Abdulmutallab] on his own merit and not associate this horrible conduct with law-abiding Nigerians who are decent and respectable international citizens wherever they are.”

Meanwhile, Nigeria’s president has launched a comprehensive probe of the bombing attempt. National Security Adviser Abdul Sarki Mukhtar has questioned whether the director-general of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) was right to keep the report made by Abdulmutallab’s father from the intelligence community. According to the security adviser, the report, if circulated, would have alerted the security agencies at so-called travel control points to take required action that would have led to Abdulmutallab’s arrest before he boarded the KLM flight from Nigeria and would have pre-empted the incident and saved Nigeria from international embarrassment.

The NIA has come under fire because, contrary to media reports that Abdulmutallab’s father reported his son’s strange ways to Nigeria’s security agencies, the real truth is that he reported only to a former national security official who served in the immediate past government. That official in turn reportedly informed one of the directors of Nigeria’s National Intelligence Agency, who, obviously, did nothing about the lead.

The father is also facing some tough questions of his own. Why, for instance, did he report his son, who recently concluded a degree program in London, not to the British High Commission but to the American Embassy? What did he know that sent him scurrying to the American Embassy? What are some of the relationships he has in the world of business, government and religion? He was recently named chairman of Nigeria’s first Islamic bank. And being married to an Arab Yemeni himself, what, if anything, does he know of his son’s Yemeni connections?

As a direct result of the Mutallab Challenge (as the incident is now known in Nigeria’s security circles), Nigeria’s Civil Aviation Authority, which when the scandal broke defended itself on grounds of not having equipment to detect powdery explosives, is collaborating with the World Bank to acquire modern detectors of powder-based explosives.

And while waiting for modern detectors, the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos now insists on “100 percent primary and secondary physical body screening for intercontinental flights.” Ouch!

Whatever “100 percent primary and secondary physical body screening” means, it’s certainly not a nice time to be at the Lagos airport.

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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.

Report this

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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