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Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab
A young, African man with dark skin, short black hair, and brown eyes, wearing a white T-shirt.
Born December 22, 1986 (1986-12-22) (age 23)
Lagos, Nigeria
Alias(es) Omar Farooq al-Nigeri
Charge(s) Indicted on six criminal counts, including attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction and attempted murder of 289 people[1]
Status In prison
Occupation Engineering, MBA, and Arabic language student
Parents Alhaji Umaru Mutallab (father) and Aisha (mother)

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (also referred to as Umar Abdul Mutallab and Omar Farooq al-Nigeri; Arabic: عمر فاروق عبدالمطالب, born December 22, 1986, in Lagos, Nigeria)[2] is a Muslim Nigerian citizen who attempted to detonate plastic explosives hidden in his underwear while on board Northwest Airlines Flight 253, en route from Amsterdam to Detroit, Michigan, on Christmas Day December 25, 2009.[1][3]

He was subsequently charged on six criminal counts, including attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction and attempted murder of 289 people. He is in U.S. custody, awaiting further legal proceedings.



Abdulmutallab is the youngest of the 16 children[4] of Alhaji Umaru Mutallab, one of the richest men in Africa and the prominent former Chairman of First Bank of Nigeria and former Nigerian Federal Commissioner for Economic Development.[5][4][6] His Yemeni mother, Aisha, is the second of his father's two wives.[7]

The family comes from Funtua in Katsina State. Abdulmutallab was raised initially in an affluent neighborhood of Kaduna,[8] in Nigeria's Muslim-dominated north,[4] and at the family home in Nairobi, Kenya.[9] As a young boy he attended the Essence International School in Kaduna, as well as classes at the Rabiatu Mutallib Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies, which is named after his grandfather.[10] As a child he enjoyed playing PlayStation and basketball, but as he grew older he abandoned such pursuits in favor of striving to be more devoutly Islamic.[8] According to one of his cousins, Abdulmutallab condemned his father's banking profession as "immoral" and "un-Islamic" for charging interest, urging him to quit.[8]


Togo: High school years

He attended high school at the British International School in Lomé, the capital of Togo,[6] a private school that is popular among wealthy Nigerians. Abdulmutallab was known as a devout Muslim and for preaching about Islam to his schoolmates.[11] While at school, he was nicknamed "Alfa," which is a term for Muslim clerics,[12] and "Pope"[9] – both due to his piety. A teacher, John McGuinness, described Abdulmutallab as "incredibly polite and very hard-working" during this time, while also noting his devotion to the Muslim faith.

He was described as a "dream student" by his history teacher, Michael Rimmer.[13] The Telegraph interviewed Rimmer, who said that Abdulmutallab had defended the Taliban during classroom discussions of their social policies, and their destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan. Rimmer described Abdulmutallab's family as "wonderful", and said he had been fond of Abdulmutallab. He also said he thought Abdulmutallab had been playing "devil's advocate" during the classroom discussions, and that he had really understood Abdulmutallab, but concluded he had not understood him after all.[14]

Abdulmutallab visited the U.S. for the first time in 2004.[15]

Yemen: 2004-05

For the 2004-05 academic year, Abdulmutallab studied at the San'a Institute for the Arabic Language in Sana'a, Yemen, and attended lectures at Iman University.[16][17][18][19]

Web postings

CNN reported that in regards to the internet username "Farouk1986," "the many detailed biographical points made by the poster match what has been reported about Mutallab's life."[20] On Monday December 28, 2009, a U.S. government official said the government is reviewing the online postings, and has not yet independently confirmed the authenticity of the posts.[21]

CNN reported that, by 2005, "Farouk1986"'s postings "had a serious view of his religion."[20] Tracey D. Samuelson of the Christian Science Monitor said that the posts "suggest a student preoccupied by university admissions and English soccer clubs, but who was also apparently lonely and conflicted."[22] The Washington Post reviewed 300 online postings by "Farouk1986"; Philip Rucker and Julie Tate of the Washington Post said: "Taken together, the writings demonstrate an acute awareness of Western customs and a worldliness befitting Mutallab's privileged upbringing as a wealthy Nigerian banker's son."[21] The user name posted on Facebook and on Islamic Forum ([22][23][24][25][26][19]

Farouk1986 discussed loneliness and marriage in his postings between 2005 and 2007, writing on January 28, 2005:

As i get lonely, the natural sexual drive awakens and i struggle to control it, sometimes leading to minor sinful activities like not lowering the gaze [in the presence of unveiled women]. And this problem makes me want to get married to avoid getting aroused.


The hair of a woman can easily arouse a man. The Prophet advised young men to fast if they can't get married but it has not been helping me much and I seriously don't want to wait for years before I get married. But i am only 18 ... It would be difficult for me to get married due to social norms of getting to the late 20's when one has a degree, a job, a house, etc before getting married. So usually my fa[n]tasies are about islamic stuff. The bad part of it is sometimes the fantasies are a bit worldly rather than concentrating in the hereafter.[27]

In a posting on February 20, 2005, he wrote:

Alright, i wont go into too much details about me fantasy, but basically they are jihad fantisies [sic]. I imagine how the great jihad will take place, how the muslims will win insha Allah and rule the whole world, and establish the greatest empire once again!!![28]

And in a May 2005 posting, he referred to radical Jamaican-born Muslim cleric Abdullah el-Faisal, who had been imprisoned in the UK for urging his followers to murder Jews, Hindus, and Americans, writing:

“i thought once they are arrested, no one hears about them for life and the keys to their prison wards are thrown away. That’s what I heard sheikh faisal of UK say (he has also been arrested i heard).”[29]

In January 2006 he chastised female users for not wearing the hijab, adding:

I don’t think it is allowed to be just friends with someone from the opposite sex. Except when thinking of marriage or when you have to work together.[30]

London: September 2005-June 2008

Abdulmutallab began his studies at University College London in September 2005, where he studied Engineering and Business Finance,[31] and earned a degree in mechanical engineering in June 2008.[4][11][32][33][34] Coincidentally, the college was also attended years earlier by Samar Alami, an Arab daughter of a banker who was convicted of detonating a car bomb in London in 1994 and was sentenced to 20 years in jail.[35]

He was president of the school's Islamic Society, which some sources have described as a vehicle for peaceful protest against the actions of the United States and the United Kingdom in the War on Terrorism.[12][19][36] During his tenure as president, along with political discussions, the club participated in activities such as martial arts training and paintballing; at least one of the Society's paintballing trips involved a preacher who reportedly said: “Dying while fighting jihad is one of the surest ways to paradise.”[19] He is the fourth president of a London student Islamic society to face terrorist charges in three years.[37] He devoted more time while at school to the group's activities than to his studies, graduating with a 2.2 grade point average–roughly a C–according to a friend. He organized a conference in January 2007 under the banner “War on Terror Week”, and advertised speakers including political figures, human rights lawyers, speakers from Cageprisoners, and former Guantánamo Bay detainees.[38] One lecture, Jihad v Terrorism, was billed as “a lecture on the Islamic position with respect to jihad”.[38]

He attended a sermon by al-Awlaki at the Finsbury Park Mosque.[39] During those years he “crossed the radar screen” of MI5, the UK's domestic counter-intelligence and security agency, for radical links and “multiple communications” with Islamic extremists.[40][41]

At the age of 21, Abdulmutallab told his parents that he wanted to get married; they refused to allow him to do so on the grounds that he had not earned a master's degree.[8]

On June 12, 2008, Abdulmutallab applied for and received from the U.S. consulate in London a U.S. multiple-entry visa, valid to June 12, 2010, with which he visited Houston, Texas, from August 1–17, 2008.[42][43] After graduating from university, Abdulmutallab made regular visits to Kaduna.[44]

Dubai: January-July 2009

From January until July 2009, he attended a master's of international business degree program at University of Wollongong in Dubai.[45][46][47]

In May 2009, Abdulmutallab tried to return to Britain, ostensibly for a six-month "life coaching" program at what the British authorities concluded was a fictitious school; accordingly, his visa application was denied by the United Kingdom Border Agency.[11] His name was placed on a UK Home Office security watch list, which according to BBC News means he could not enter the UK, though passing through the country in transit was permissible and he was not permanently banned; the UK did not share the information with other countries.[48][49] This is because the application was rejected to prevent immigration fraud rather than for a national security purpose.[9]

Yemen: August-December 2009

Intelligence officials suspect al-Awlaki may have directed Abdulmutallab to Yemen for al-Qaeda training.[39] Abdulmutallab's father agreed in July 2009 to his request to return to the San'a Institute for the Arabic Language in Yemen to study Arabic from August to September 2009.[4][19] He arrived in the country in August.

Abdulmutallab was the only African student in the school of 70 students.[50] A fellow student at the Institute said Abdulmutallab would start his day by going to the mosque for dawn prayers, and then would spend hours in his room reading the Quran. Ahmed Mohammed, one of his teachers, said Abdulmutallab spent the last 10 days of Ramadan sequestered in a mosque.[51] He apparently left the Institute after a month, while remaining in-country.[4][52][19]

His family became concerned in August 2009 when he called them to say he had dropped the course, but was remaining there.[4] By September he routinely skipped his classes at the Institute and attended lectures at Iman University, notorious for suspected links to terrorism.[19] “He told me his greatest wish was for sharia and Islam to be the rule of law across the world,” said one of his classmates at the Institute.[19]

The Institute obtained an exit visa for him at his request, and on September 21 arranged for a car that took him to the airport. But the school's director said: "After that, we never saw him again, and apparently he did not leave Yemen".[53] In October, Abdulmutallab sent his father a text message saying that he was no longer interested in pursuing an MBA in Dubai, and wanted instead to study sharia and Arabic in a seven-year course in Yemen.[19] His father threatened to cut off his funding, whereupon Abdulmutallab said he was “already getting everything for free”.[19] When his father asked who would sponsor him, Abdulmutallab replied "That's none of your business."[54] Among the other text messages he sent to his father were: "I've found a new religion, the real Islam"; "You should just forget about me, I'm never coming back"; "Please forgive me. I will no longer be in touch with you"; and "Forgive me for any wrongdoing, I am no longer your child."[55][19][4] The family last had contact with Abdulmutallab in October 2009.[56]

Yemeni officials said that he was in Yemen from early August 2009, overstayed his student visa (which was valid through September 21), and left Yemen on December 7 (flying to Ethiopia, and then two days later to Ghana).[57][58] Yemeni officials have said that Abdulmutallab traveled to the mountainous Shabwah Province to meet with "Al Qaeda elements" before leaving Yemen.[8] Ghanaian officials say he was there from December 9 until December 24, when he flew to Lagos.[59]

In February 2010, a Yemeni security official said that 43 people were being interrogated for links to the Christmas Day attempt, including foreigners, some of them studying Arabic and others married to Yemeni women. Abdulmutallab was thought to have used Arabic studies as a pretext for entering the country [60].

The awareness of US intelligence

On November 11, British intelligence officials sent the U.S. a cable indicating that a man named "Umar Farouk" had spoken to al-Awlaki, pledging to support jihad, but the cable did not reflect Abdulmutallab's last name.[61] Abdulmutallab's father made a report to two CIA officers at the U.S. Embassy in Abuja, Nigeria, on November 19 regarding his son's "extreme religious views",[4][62] and told the embassy that Abdulmutallab might be in Yemen.[6][63][33][19] Acting on the report, the suspect's name was added in November 2009 to the U.S..'s 550,000-name Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, a database of the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center. It was not added, however, to the FBI's 400,000-name Terrorist Screening Database, the terror watch list that feeds both the 14,000-name Secondary Screening Selectee list and the U.S.'s 4,000-name No Fly List,[64] nor was his U.S. visa revoked.[19]

U.S. State Department officials said in Congressional testimony that the State Department had wanted to revoke Abdulmutallab's visa, but U.S. intelligence officials requested that his visa not be revoked. The intelligence officials' stated reason was that revoking Abdulmutallab's visa could have foiled a larger investigation into al-Qaida.[65]

Abdulmutallab's name had come to the attention of intelligence officials many months before that,[66] but no "derogatory information" was recorded about him.[43] A Congressional official said that Abdulmutallab's name appeared in U.S. reports reflecting that he had connections to both al-Qaeda and Yemen.[67] The NCTC did not check to see whether Abdulmutallab's American visa was valid, or whether he had a British visa that was valid; therefore, they did not learn that the British had rejected Abdulmutallab's visa application earlier in 2009.[9] The British did not inform the Americans because the visa application was denied to prevent immigration fraud and not for a national security purpose.[9]

Contact with Islamic extremists

The New York Times reported that "officials said the suspect told them he had obtained plastic explosives that were sewn into his underwear and a syringe from a bomb expert in Yemen associated with Al Qaeda."[68][69]

Abdulmutallab had been a devout Muslim throughout his youth, but it is unclear when he became "radicalized." During his time in London, he reportedly visited the London Muslim Centre three times; the Centre is expected to be a focus of future investigations.[12]

In April 2009, Abdulmutallab had applied to attend an Islamic seminar in Houston, Texas. He obtained a multiple-entry visa in the U.S. Consulate in June 2008 that would be valid until June 2010. He attended the Islamic seminar from August 1-17 at AlMaghrib Institute.[70]

When Abdulmutallab returned to Yemen, purportedly to study Arabic again, he appeared to have undergone a personality change: he was more religious and "a loner", and wore traditional Islamic clothing.[71] He rarely attended class, and sometimes he left class midway to go pray at a mosque.[8]

Ties to Anwar al-Awlaki

A man in white clothing with a beard and glasses sits cross-legged before a table with an open book.
Anwar al-Awlaki, who reportedly had ties to Abdulmutallab

A number of sources reported contacts between Abdulmutallab and Anwar al-Awlaki, a Muslim lecturer and spiritual leader who is accused of being a senior al-Qaeda talent recruiter and motivator. Al-Awlaki, previously an imam in the U.S. who more recently has lived in Yemen, also has links to three of the 9/11 hijackers, the 2005 London subway bombers, a 2006 Toronto terror cell, a 2007 plot to attack Fort Dix, and the 2009 suspected Fort Hood shooter, Nidal Malik Hasan.[72][73][74][75]

With a blog and a Facebook page, he has been described as the "bin Laden of the internet."[76]

Despite being banned from entering the UK in 2006, al-Awlaki spoke on at least seven occasions at five different venues around Britain via video-link in 2007–09.[77] He gave a number of video-link lectures at the East London Mosque during this period. In one instance, the mosque provoked the outrage of The Daily Telegraph by hosting a video-teleconference by al-Awlaki in 2008, and former Shadow Home Secretary Dominic Grieve expressed concern over al-Awlaki's involvement.[78] On New Year's Day 2009 the mosque played a pre-recorded video lecture by al-Awlaki, with a poster depicting New York in flames.[79][80] He also gave video-link talks in England to an Islamic student society at the University of Westminster in September 2008, an arts center in East London in April 2009 (after the Tower Hamlets council gave its approval), worshipers at the Al Huda Mosque in Bradford, and a dinner of the Cageprisoners organization in September 2008 at the Wandsworth Civic Centre in South London (at which he said "We should make jihad for our brothers and an angel will make the same jihad for you").[77][81][82] On August 23, 2009, al-Awlaki was banned by local authorities in Kensington and Chelsea, London, from speaking at Kensington Town Hall via videolink to a fundraiser dinner for Guantanamo detainees promoted by Cageprisoners.[83][84] His videos, which discuss his Islamist theories, have also circulated in England.[85][86][87]

Representative Pete Hoekstra, the senior Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, said on the day of the attack that Obama administration officials and officials with access to law enforcement information told him "there are reports [the suspect] had contact [with al-Awlaki].... The question we'll have to raise is was this imam in Yemen influential enough to get some people to attack the U.S. again."[88][89][90] He added: "The suspicion is ... that [the suspect] had contact with al-Awlaki. The belief is this is a stronger connection with al-Awlaki" than Hasan had.[91] Hoekstra later said credible sources told him Abdulmutallab "most likely" has ties with al-Awlaki.[92][93]

The Sunday Times established that Abdulmutallab first met and attended lectures by al-Awlaki in 2005, when he was in Yemen to study Arabic.[19][41] He attended a sermon by al-Awlaki at the Finsbury Park Mosque.[39] The two are also "thought to have met" in London, according to The Daily Mail.[94] Fox News reported that evidence collected during searches of "flats or apartments of interest" connected to Abdulmutallab in London showed that he was a "big fan" of al-Awlaki, as web traffic showed he followed Awlaki's blog and website.[95] CBS News and The Daily Telegraph reported that Abdulmutallab attended a talk by al-Awlaki at the East London Mosque (which al-Awlaki may have participated in by video teleconference).[77][96]

University of Oxford historian, and professor of international relations, Mark Almond wrote that the suspect was "on American security watch-lists because of his links with ... Al-Awlaki".[97]

CBS News said that the two were communicating in the months before the bombing attempt, and sources say that at a minimum al-Awlaki was providing spiritual support.[98] According to federal sources, over the year prior to the attack, Abdulmutallab intensified electronic communications with al-Awlaki.[99]

Intelligence officials suspect al-Awlaki may have directed Abdulmutallab to Yemen for al-Qaeda training.[39] One government source described intercepted "voice-to-voice communication" between the two during the fall of 2009, saying that al-Awlaki "was in some way involved in facilitating [Abdulmutallab]'s transportation or trip through Yemen. It could be training, a host of things."[100]

Abdulmutallab reportedly told the FBI that al-Awlaki was one of his trainers when he underwent al-Qaeda training in remote camps in Yemen, and there were "informed reports" that Abdulmutallab met al-Awlaki during his final weeks of training and indoctrination prior to the attack.[101][102] According to a U.S. intelligence official, intercepts and other information point to connections between the two:

"Some of the information ... comes from Abdulmutallab, who ... said that he met with al-Awlaki and senior al-Qaeda members during an extended trip to Yemen this year, and that the cleric was involved in some elements of planning or preparing the attack and in providing religious justification for it. Other intelligence linking the two became apparent after the attempted bombing, including communications intercepted by the National Security Agency indicating that the cleric was meeting with "a Nigerian" in preparation for some kind of operation."[103]

Yemen's Deputy Prime Minister for Defense and Security Affairs, Rashad Mohammed al-Alimi, said Yemeni investigators believe the suspect traveled in October to Shabwa, where he met with suspected al-Qaida members in a house built by al-Awlaki and used by al-Awlaki to hold theological sessions, and that Abdulmutallab was trained and equipped there with his explosives.[104] "If he went to Shabwa, for sure he would have met Anwar al-Awlaki," al-Alimi said. Al-Alimi also said he believed al-Awlaki is alive.[105] And Abdul Elah al-Shaya, a Yemeni journalist, said a healthy al-Awlaki called him on December 28 and said that the Yemeni government's claims as to his death were "lies". Shaya declined to comment as to whether al-Awlaki had told him about any contacts he may have had with Abdulmutallab. According to Gregory Johnsen, a Yemeni expert at Princeton University, Shaya is generally reliable.[106]

At the end of January 2010, a Yemeni journalist, Abdulelah Hider Sha’ea, said he met with al-Awlaki, who said he had met and spoken with Abdulmutallab in Yemen in the fall of 2009. Al-Awlaki also reportedly said Abdulmutallab was one of his students, that he supported what Abdulmutallab did but did not tell him to do it, and that he was proud of Abdulmutallab. A New York Times journalist listened to a digital recording of the meeting, and said that while the tape's authenticity could not be independently verified, the voice resembled that on other recordings of al-Awlaki.[107]


An Airbus A330 similar to the one involved in the Flight 253 incident.

On Christmas Day, December 25, 2009, Abdulmutallab travelled to Amsterdam, where he boarded Northwest Airlines Flight 253 en route to Detroit, Michigan. He had purchased his ticket with cash in Ghana on December 16.[108]

Abdulmutallab spent about 20 minutes in the bathroom as it approached Detroit, and then covered himself with a blanket after returning to his seat. They then heard popping noises, smelled a foul odor, and some saw Abdulmutallab’s trouser leg and the wall of the plane on fire. Fellow passenger Jasper Schuringa, a Dutch film director, jumped on Abdulmutallab and subdued him as flight attendants used fire extinguishers to douse the flames.[109] Abdulmutallab was taken toward the front of the airplane cabin, was seen to have lost his trousers due to the fire, and had burns on his legs.[110] When asked by a flight attendant what he had in his pocket, he replied: “Explosive device.” The device consisted of a six-inch (15-cm) packet which was sewn into his underwear[1][111][112] containing the explosive powder PETN, which became a plastic explosive when mixed[113] with the high explosive triacetone triperoxide (TAPN) (the same two explosives that were used by Richard Reid in 2001[114][115]), and a syringe containing acid liquid.[116]. Abdulmutallab created the explosive by mixing PETN with TAPN and other ingredients.[116]

After being taken into custody, Abdulmutallab told authorities he had been directed by al Qaeda, and that he had obtained the device in Yemen.[117] Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the organization's affiliate in Yemen, subsequently claimed responsibility for the attack, describing it as revenge for the United States' role in a Yemeni military offensive against al Qaeda in that country.[118]


The exterior of Federal Correctional Institution, Milan, where Abdulmutallab is incarcerated

Two days after the attack, Abdulmutallab was released from a hospital where he had been treated for first and second degree burns to his hands, and second degree burns to his right inner thigh and genitalia, sustained during the attempted bombing.[119] Abdulmutallab, Federal Bureau of Prisons Register# 44107-039, is in Federal Correctional Institution, Milan, a federal prison in York Charter Township, Michigan.[120][121]

New restrictions were imposed on U.S travelers, but the government was vague about many of them because it "wanted the security experience to be 'unpredictable'".[122] One day after she said that the system had "worked", Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano acknowledged that the aviation security system had indeed failed.[123] President Barack Obama vowed that the U.S. government would track down all those responsible for the attack, and any attack being planned against the U.S.[123] He also ordered a review of detection and watch list procedures. Saying that "totally unacceptable" systemic and human failures had occurred, Obama told reporters he was insisting on "accountability at every level," but did not give any details.[124] Criticism of the system's failure to prevent Abdulmutallab from boarding the aircraft in the first place has been widespread; one critic, former FBI counterterrorism agent Ali Soufan, has said that it "should have been lighting up like a Christmas tree."[9]

United States Senator Joe Lieberman called for the Obama administration to pre-emptively curb terrorism in Yemen and halt plans to repatriate Guantanamo detainees to Yemen.[125] Peter Hoekstra, a senior member of the House Intelligence Committee, and Congressional Representative Peter T. King[126] also called for a halt to the repatriation of Guantanamo detainees from Yemen.[127] Bennie Thompson, Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, called for a halt to all current plans with regard to Yemen in light of Abdulmutallab's ties there.[128]

Immediately after the attack, Lateef Adegbite, Secretary General of Nigeria's Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, condemned the attack and said: "We are embarrassed by this incident and we strongly condemn the alleged action by this young man. We do not think that there is any organised Islamic group in Nigeria that is inclined to such a criminal and violent act. We condemn such an extreme viewpoint and action."[13]

On December 27, The Wall Street Journal reported that Abdulmutallab's suspected ties to jihadists from Yemen could potentially complicate the Obama administration's plans to release Yemeni detainees held in Guantanamo to Yemen.[129]

Reactions in the Muslim and Arabic-speaking media were mixed, from suspicion that it was a "set-up to lure the media and expand the scope and depth of a new chapter in the war on terror",[130][131] to concerns that Nigerians would now be "unduly stigmatized."[132]

Incarceration and trial

Abdulmutallab was charged on December 26, 2009, in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, with two criminal counts: attempting to blow up and placing a destructive device on a U.S. civil aircraft.[3] Additional charges were added in a grand jury indictment on January 6, 2010, including attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction and attempted murder of 289 people.[1][133][134] He is incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Institution, Milan, Michigan, while awaiting further legal proceedings.[135][136] If he is convicted on the charges, he will face a life sentence plus 90 years in prison.[111]

Abdulmutallab initially cooperated with investigators, but the subsequent decision to read him his Miranda rights generated criticism from a number of mostly Republican politicians.[137] However, after the FBI brought two of Abdulmutallab's relatives from Nigeria to the U.S. to speak with him, he once again began to cooperate.[138]


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