U.S.: Nigeria unduly punished for U.K. educated and radicalized terror suspect

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While Nigerians have condemned the extremism of its 23-year-old citizen, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who attempted to blow up a U.S plane on 25 Dec. 2009, in Detroit Metropolitan Airport in Michigan, its good citizens have questioned the scrutiny and negative perception the country has received from the United States.

Abdulmutalab attended high school in a British school in Togo. His formative years were spent at the University College London, where he was president of the University’s Islamic society. He later went on to study International business in Dubai, and finally to Yemen for Islamic studies.

According to this chronicle reported by CNN, the Nigerian society has not played any role in shaping this young man’s life or views. But instead Nigeria, and not Britain where Abdulmutallab was educated and where he headed an Islamic society, has been put on the list of nations for special checks.

According to Nigeria’s Information Minister, Dora Akunyili, the new rule to single out Nigerians to face stiffer rules including body searches and luggage checks discriminated against 150 million Nigerians, especially as the said suspect spent his high school and college years in British schools before moving to the Middle East.

“Abdulmutallab’s behavior is not reflective of Nigeria and should therefore not be used as a yardstick to judge all Nigerians. He was not influenced in Nigeria, he was not recruited or trained in Nigeria, he was not supported whatsoever in Nigeria. It is unfair to discriminate against 150 million people because of the behavior of one person,” Ms.Akunyii said.

So why Nigeria?

The new extra security measures apply to flights from Cuba, Iran, Sudan. Syria, Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Yemen. But the important question here is why is Nigeria on this list, and Britain isn’t?

Reiterating the reported facts, the terror suspect attended a British international high school in Togo where his former classmates and teachers have said he supported extremist view points, and have confirmed his radical devotion to the Islamic faith. There, he earned the nickname- Alfa (A local lingo for Muslim cleric).

Between 2004 and 2005, he showed up in Yemen to study Islam. In September 2005, he was admitted into University College London where he studied mechanical engineering, and eventually became president of the school’s Islamic society.

In August 2008, he attended a two week conference in the United States; it isn’t clear what kind of conference it was. In January 2009, he undertook a master degree program in international business at the Wollongong University in Dubai. In August 2009, he returned to Yemen for Islamic studies.

Breaking family ties

In November, the suspect’s father contacted various security agencies and the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria’s capital Abuja, about a text message he had received from his son that he was leaving school in Dubai “for the course of Islam in Yemen. Abdulmuttalab sent his family a text message saying he had gone to Yemen to start a new life, and that it would be difficult for anyone to reach him because he had thrown his SIM card away, according to a source.

The heroic father forwarded this information about his son to the National Counter-Terrorism Center, and his son was added to a general watch list, a data base of suspected terrorists. But the U.S. officials said “the info on him was not deemed specific enough to pull his visa or put him on a no-fly list.” An oversight they almost came to regret.

From these reports, it can be argued that Abdulmutallab was radicalized at the University College London where he held a debate on the war on terror as president of the Islamic society, the Wollongong University in Dubai, and an Islamic school in Yemen. The explosive device he used on the plane “was acquired in Yemen along with instructions as to when it should be used,” a federal security bulletin obtained by CNN said.

The suspect, though a Nigerian was hardly ever in Nigeria as we have seen in the chronicles gathered by CNN. The Nigerian society obviously played the slightest role in educating, and shaping the ideals of the young and extreme Abdulmutallab. Shouldn’t Britain and Yemen take more credit for shaping Abdulmutallab’s views, perception and outcome?

“While steps are being taken to verify the identity of the alleged suspect and his motives, our security agencies will cooperate fully with the American authorities in the on-going investigations. We state very clearly that as a nation, we abhor all forms of terrorism,” Ms. Akunyili, was quoted as saying.

State sponsored terrorism?

Nonetheless, after police in Britain worked closely with U.S. investigators to uncover the full background to the incident they named Nigeria as one of the state sponsors of terror; a laughable conclusion according to many Nigerians.

To cushion the the negative stigmatization of Nigeria that was imminent, a Facebook group was started to condemn Abdulmuttalla. “We Condemn Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s Action: Nigerians are Not Terrorists,” the Facebook group reads.

“We Nigerians cannot fold our arms and watch while the acts of just one over-bloated sun (sic) of a big-gun smears the already sodden image of our great Nation and puts the travel comfort of over 150 million in jeopardy. With the fuming retorts on the group page, any right-thinking non-Nigerian will see the real emotions and hatred of this dastardly act by well-meaning good people of a great nation,” Henry Omoregie, the creator of the group told AFP reporters in an email.

Extremism must be combated in our schools, societies and religious gatherings, and security measures must be improved in every airport, irrespective of location or destination. However, racial, and national profiling must be avoided in line with civil and human rights. All nations and all people must and should undergo equal security measures and protection; if Nigerians should undergo intense airport scrutiny so should Britons.

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