Why did the Christmas day bomber Umar Mutallab try to blow up a plane? Was he radicalised while studying in Britain—and, if so, what should British universities be doing to combat extremism?by Shiv Malik / February 23, 2010 / Leave a comment
Earlier this month, a UCL board of inquiry was assembled to determine whether or not Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab—variously know as the “Detroit,” “Christmas,” “Syringe” and “Underwear” bomber—had been radicalised while studying for an engineering degree at the university between 2005 and 2008. So far there is scant evidence that this is the case. But I have had exclusive access to recordings that may suggest otherwise. And if he was indeed radicalised here, how should UCL—and other academic institutions across Britain—respond?
Most of the details reported thus far about Abdulmutallab’s life have centred around his late teenage years in west Africa—in internet chat rooms he talked about his loneliness and his jihad fantasies—or from his time in Yemen in 2009. The radical Yemeni-based preacher, Anwar Al Awlaki, has admitted that Abdulmutallab was one of his students, adding: “I did not tell him to do this operation, but I support it.”
The years of Abdulmutallab’s life that most lack detail, in fact, are those three years at UCL. We do know that he was president of the Islamic Society (Isoc) from 2006 to 2007. In an interview with the BBC’s Daniel Sandford, Qasim Rafiq, UCL Isoc president during Abdulmutallab’s first year of university, said he was “shocked” that one of his friends had been involved in a plot to kill 289 passengers. Rafiq, now the media officer for the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS), the student body that represents Muslims students at a national level, has not given any further interviews about his friend.
The inquiry, set up by UCL’s provost Malcolm Grant, is expected to take between two and three months to complete, and is being headed by Fiona Caldicott, pro-vice chancellor of Oxford University. As an expert in psychiatry and psychology, she should be well qualified for the task. And one question she might well wish to consider is the role of the radical Islamist preacher Abdur Raheem Green at UCL.
Green, who was educated at Ampleforth College and converted to Islam in 1988, was a regular feature of the UCL Isoc schedule, speaking three times during 2005-2009. The first of these talks, on the 23rd November 2005, was entitled “Islam and Terrorism.” It closely followed an outing in which Green and several friends accompanied three London university Islamic societies on a paintballing trip (and during which Abdulmutallab captained the UCL team). I have had exclusive access to the…