Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab: British police look into London connection

The Nigerian man arrested Friday for trying to destroy Northwest Airlines Flight 253, Umar Farouk Abdul Mattallab, is being investigated by London authorities. He reportedly had an apartment there, and had been an engineering student at University College London.

Akira Suemori/AP
Police enter the basement of a building where police are searching in Mansfield Street in London, Saturday. The search was reportedly in connection with the attempted terrorist attack on a Northwestern Airline flight as it prepared to land in Detroit on Friday.

Police searched a London apartment Saturday as authorities probed the background of a Nigerian man who attempted to down a Northwest Airlines jetliner. A prestigious London university said Saturday that a man with a similar name had studied mechanical engineering at the school for three years.

University College London said a man called Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was enrolled at the school from September 2005 to June 2008. In Nigeria, the father of Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab — identified by U.S. officials as the man who set a fire on a Detroit-bound jetliner — said his son had been a student in London, but had left the city to travel.

Mutallab is accused of trying to destroy Northwest Airlines Flight 253, which was minutes away from touching down in Detroit after leaving Amsterdam earlier on Christmas Day.

Home Secretary Alan Johnson called the thwarted attack a "potentially serious security threat" and said British investigators were working with their American counterparts. Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he had spoken with the head of London's Metropolitan Police about the incident.

University College London, which was ranked as the world's No. 4 university earlier this year by U.S. News and World Report, said that while they could say that a student with a very similar name had attended the school, "it must be stressed that the university has no evidence that this is the same person currently being referred to in the media."

Officers from the Metropolitan Police — the force is involved in most of the major terrorism investigations in Britain — went in and out of an imposing white stone apartment block in a well-to-do area of central London. A police spokeswoman said the force was carrying out searches in connection with the incident in Detroit, but would not say if the searches at the building were connected.

The seven-story building is a stone's throw from London's busy Oxford Street shopping area. It was adorned with ornate carvings on its facade and antique lamps flank an imposing front door.

Officers searching the residence wore regular uniforms. On past searches of terror suspects' houses, officers have worn protective clothing.

At London's Heathrow Airport — one of Europe's busiest — security measures for travelers to the U.S. were tightened at the request of American authorities.

British Airways said all carriers were asked to revise their security arrangements, which would include additional screening passengers and their hand luggage. The airline restricted carryon luggage to one bag per passenger — and let travelers know about the before they arrived at the airport.

A spokesman at London's Central Mosque, one of London's largest, said Mutallab was not known in the mosque.

Britain has been at the center of several international terror plots since 2005 and has been a recruiting hotbed for militants.

The deadliest attack occurred in 2005 when four suicide bombers killed themselves and 52 rush hour commuters. Three of the bombers — Europe's first suicide attack — had Pakistani origins while another was a Muslim convert with ties to Jamaica.

But the thwarted plot in London that has been hardest felt around the world has been the trans-Atlantic airliner attack.

Several men were recently convinced in London in the 2006 plot that was intended to rival the Sept. 11 attacks.

The men tried to smuggle explosives through security in soft drink bottles. Massive disruptions were caused around the world and a ban on taking liquids through airport security still exists.

Rohan Gunaratna, an al-Qaida expert, said Friday's thwarted attack appeared to be a copycat of the trans-Atlantic technique.

He said the powder used turns to liquid and is then ignited. The technique was apparently developed by an al-Qaida leader in the tribal areas of Pakistan, Gunaratna said.

"What is surprising is that this man is Nigerian," he said, noting that recruiting in that country has not been the norm, and is more common in major European capitals like London. "Yemen and Somalia have been the two most important terrorism theaters developing, although it seems clear that Mutallab was recruited in London — probably not at a mainstream mosque but on the sly with militant groups."

An Algerian man accused of links to al-Qaida was arrested near Belfast in 2003 with 25 computer disks filled with instructions on building compact bombs and other weapons and on smuggling them onto a plane.

Investigators contended that Abbas Boutrab — who unsuccessfully sought asylum in the Netherlands, Ireland and the United Kingdom using several aliases — was carrying instructions on how to build a bomb using a 7-ounce mixture of potassium chlorate, sulfur, sugar and baby powder.

Such an explosion could have torn apart passenger seats or punctured a plane's fuselage.


Associated Press Writer Paisley Dodds contributed to this report.

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