Was Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab radicalized in London?
The religious background and motivations of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian national accused of trying to blow up Northwest Airlines flight 253, are still unclear. But experts say his time in London may have helped fuel a militant world view.
London and Paris
For young Muslims especially, London is a city like no other. It is a mecca for jobs and education and provides freedom from the prying eyes of family back home. The grand metropolis also beckons as a bastion of religious freedom and as a refuge from corrupt home country politics.Skip to next paragraph
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And with roughly 600,000 Muslim residents hailing from all corners of the Islamic world, it's a place where virtually every flavor of Europe's fastest growing religion can be studied and discussed.
That was the world that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab – the young Nigerian accused of seeking to blow up Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on Christmas –immersed himself in as a student between 2005 and 2008, when the petri dish of political Islam in London was stirring strongly.
For at least a decade sub-cultures of radical thought that promote borderless Islam and an uncompromising return to Sharia law have flourished in Great Britain’s capital – despite some reportedly effective efforts to tamp down extremist views, and despite worries among moderate London Muslims about the trend.
“There are basically two meccas,” argues Egyptian-born Mamoun Fandy of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. “There’s a Mecca that Muslims should visit, and the mecca of jihad that is London.”
London's 'problem of assimilation'
Police are still searching a three bedroom apartment in a seven story block close to Oxford Circus in London’s posh West End, which had been rented by Abdulmutallab’s father, a prominent Nigerian banker, and where the young man stayed while studying mechanical engineering and business finance at University College London.
The availability of every kind of message Islam has to offer is part of the London scene. Most mosques have easy byways for students to meet and learn a more intense Koranic view; groups like Hizb ut-Tahrir, which seeks a return to early Islam with all Muslim states under one ruler, post members around mosques on Friday. They offer cards with phone numbers and invitations to study groups that discuss jihad. One of their common Friday hangouts is an East London mosque that Abdulmutallab allegedly attended.
To be sure, it is too early to say what role London may have played in radicalizing the young Nigerian, who attended an elite British international school in Togo prior to arriving in London. His mother is Yemeni, and he spent time in the Gulf. But his four formative years in London coincided with public anger over the Iraq war and the London subway and bus bombing by Islamists in July 2005. Those attacks led to new efforts to deport militant clerics, censor sermons that encourage violence, and to millions spent on integrating resident Muslims. The city picked up the sobriquet “Londonistan” widely at the time.
But there are still young Muslims in London for whom a more demanding and militant strain of faith is a salve. Young Muslims in London are more sophisticated, analysts say, but may keenly feel rejection or alienation from the demanding, secular cosmopolitan world surrounding them. Their grievances, particularly earlier in the decade, are sharpened by the city.