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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.

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“I’ve felt for a long time that if radical Sharia law comes to the rest of the world it will start on the streets of London,” says a Pakistani expert on militant Islam who asked not to be identified. “Too many clerics today, even moderate ones, don’t talk on Muslim life in a secular state. Young Muslims are smart, raised as British citizens. If they come from abroad, many have great hope and are often disillusioned. They live between worlds, in the cracks. When they go home to their families they are often more radical than their friends.”

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“There remains in London a problem of assimilation for outsiders. The society is closed. The city is open, but the people are not,” argues Mr. Fandy.

Student visas for schools that don't exist?

Britain’s Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, told the BBC Monday that Abdulmutallab was on a security watch list, which meant that although he could not come into the UK, he could pass through the country in transit. He added that Abdulmutallab had been refused a fresh British student visa after applying in May to study at a college in Britain which was identified as bogus. “What happened in Britain? This is one of the questions. Was he radicalized in this country?” asked Mr. Johnson.

Agence France-Presse cited family members' claims that Abdulmutallab was a quiet individual who was “radicalized” during his stint in London. The London daily Independent quoted a school friend: "He always did the bare minimum of work and would just show up to classes" and "he always would go off to pray," said Fabrizio Cavallo Marincola. "He was pretty quiet and didn't socialise much or have a girlfriend that I knew of. (...) You would never imagine him pulling off something like this."

Critics of lax border security in the UK point out that more than 42,000 British student visas were issued to Pakistani students between 2004 and 2007 but it was only in 2009 that applications have been checked against an expanded set of terrorist watch lists. A concern is that student visas are being secured to study at educational institutions which don’t exist.

The Pakistani analyst, who has close ties to London mosques, argues that nearly every Pakistani radical he knows in London has gone through a “night club” phase. They try out a “clubbing life” that is ultimately unsatisfying. “They try to experience something like a dream of life in the west. About a year later they show up in the mosque, grow beards and are ‘good Muslims,’” he says.

Many Muslims in the UK complain of the “double standards” of Western policies, particularly as regards the Middle East. British Palestinian Muslims have complained, for example, that when British Jews go to Israel and fight for the Israeli army, they come home as praiseworthy heroes; but when Palestinians go to fight or aid the local struggle, they come home and are considered terrorists.
In July, a determination in London that Al Qaeda threats have diminished lowered the terrorist threat level from severe to substantial, and relaxed measures such as ‘stop and search’ powers. Britain has spent heavily on reconciliation projects – sponsoring ‘moderate’ preachers - aimed at stemming the influence of Islamist messages over young British Muslims. UK campuses remain in the frontline of struggle to prevent the radicalization of students although the British government continues to resist calls to ban Hizb ut-Tahrir, accused of attempting to infiltrate Muslim student societies.