Muttallab: What Happened?

Published on 29th December 2009

After all the hue and cry, it is important to look at the events of the past few days, from 25th December to 27th December and afterward. 

First, a ‘first class’ Nigerian citizen, Umar Farouk Abdul Muttalab, crossed Nigeria borders, went to Ghana and purchased himself a ticket. His destination was USA via Amsterdam. He paid cash and returned to Nigeria where he passed through airport checks with a bomb laced on his lap and a handy syringe to aid detonation. No security officer at Lagos airport detected that he was wired.

Secondly, at Amsterdam, he again went through security checks and was given a ‘clean bill of health.’ Undetected, he must have thanked his luck for he boarded again to his final destination, USA. He sat on sit number 19A and twenty minutes to arrival time,  felt it was now time to release the venom that would kill 289 passengers. This is the picture we have been given officially by the United States Government and western press. Every other thing happened after this. 

As God may have it, probably out of anxiety, lack of expertise or late realization of love for his own life, the bomb did not detonate. In fact, what followed was that a passenger, Jasper Schuringa, suddenly leapt. "I saw smoke rising from a seat ... I didn’t hesitate. I just jumped," he said. This “hero,” a film Director travelling to the US to visit friends had to jump four rows to get to the would be bomber. Rueben Abati while writing in had questioned the agility of this hero cum “good Samaritan” and asked if he was a CIA. I join in asking the same question; is Jasper Schuringa a CIA agent? I saw him being interviewed by CNN. He appeared calm with bandaged fingers and looked as if he was not bothered a bit if Al-Qaeda knew his face. 

Then came the father….information started trickling in that few months back, he had gone to the US embassy to report that his son is “radicalized.” The US government placed Umar Farouk Abdul Muttalab on the “watch list” but not on “any fly risk” because there was not enough information to upgrade him to that level. US Home Security Secretary, Janet Napolitano and CNN Travel Correspondent, Richard Quest had explained as much. But there’s other twist: his family released a statement positing that their son disappeared since he arrived to study in London, June 2005 to June 2008. If this was so, how did he pay and maintain an apartment in a high brow area said to be worth about British Pounds 1.5 million? How did he pay his tuition and his well being throughout his student days at University College London? Again, at what point did his Banker father find out about his radical extremism? How did he find that out, by email or by phone? Even Katsina state where he hails from no longer had anything to do with him.

While I sympathize with Dr. Umaru Abdul Muttalab and his family in this trying times, we need to know how water entered the base of the fruited pumpkin. Our federal government, the Nigeria inept and callous regime that has record of years of malfeasance in US archives has joined the forum. Our most respected Dora Akunyili, Nigeria’s Information Minister has condemned the odious attempt and  added that the would be bomber sneaked inside his own country, that is, in the likes of Late Gani Fawehinmi under Late Gen. Sani Abacha regime or of most recent, Nuhu Ribadu who was said to have sneaked in when unrepentant Gani passed on.

The question is this; was Umar Farouk Abdul Muttalab ever granted persona-non-grata by any Nigeria government, past or present? How can a man be said to have sneaked inside his country? Ok! If he “sneaked in” on December 24, where was the security force when he boarded the plane on December 25th? Did he sneak out? Did he not board through Nigeria airport with his international passport and names clearly displayed? Was there someone trailing him that gave a tip-off that he should be allowed to board? Anyway, I will not waste time deducting reasoning of a country that has not found the assailants of its own Attorney General, Chief Bola Ige who was murdered in his own house. 

The British angle to this whole saga is also ‘fascinating’ to say the least. The British authorities cordoned off where he lived and his ex-school teacher came up with some statements, one of which was that in class discussions, he defended the Talibans against US. The media had run away with this hype as what should have been an earlier warning. How about an American I know here in Japan who is against the US invasion of Afghanistan and in fact, supports Taliban too? Would he be said to be a terrorist or to harbor a foreboding danger yet to unravel? What of a Lawyer that I knew in Nigeria who goes by the nickname “De Taliban?” Whenever he was called this name, he would respond, “Yes, Americans may have won the war in Iraq but have they won the peace?” This was under the Bush regime. And how about the taxi driver that took me home from Guangzhou, China airport, September 11, 2001. Because I was on air, I did not know what had happened, he explained and was glaringly happy and so were other ordinary Chinese, not minding the Beijing government's show of sympathy? Were these people terrorists or harbored any ill will outside expressing their feelings and opinions? 

The British government refused him visa when he applied to return to the non-existing school in the UK. How could this be? How can someone who lived in UK for at least three years and bagged a degree in the prestigious University College London not know names of schools to apply for further study?   

Umar Farouk Abdul Muttalab, now on US soil with his attempt foiled was taken to a hospital for treatment. This Further depicts US humaneness. Someone who almost blew off a flight carrying 278 passengers was being taken care of with US tax payers’ money. US District Judge Paul Borman had read Abdul Mutallab his charges. This also goes to prove what Obama has been hammering: that the US justice system can work against terrorists and therefore, why send culprits to Guantanamo Gulag Achipelago? It’s noteworthy that before Abdul Muttallab received his charges, he smiled. What body language was that? Does he know more than he has sung to FBI? 

On 27th December, another Nigerian was again seized in the same flight number 253 for being “verbally disruptive”. He was later released because his case was seen as not “serious.” However, his name was not released. Who was the man? What actually happened? What exchanges did he have with the cabin crew that was seen to be “verbally disruptive?” 

Meanwhile, US Home Security Secretary had declared that in Abdul Mutallab's attempt, security “response worked” and a moment ago, tried to clarify her well thought out position. I will stick to her first deduction that “response worked.” If we tow her line, it means that the government knows more than they are letting out to Americans and the world. Was there a trail that followed Abdul Mutallab to Ghana (that is, if actually he bought the ticket himself) to Nigeria airport, Amsterdam and then on flight to Detroit? In fact, what role did  the CIA play in all of these since Abdul Mutallab was placed on a “watch list?” What was his movement like weeks before this atrocious incident? Did he make any contact at the point of departure? How about Amsterdam, did he contact anyone before departure to Detroit? How could response have worked when he passed security checks with a bomb strapped on his laps if his voodoo was not already detected from embryonic stage? By allowing this irritant Youngman to attempt his designs, was there need to scare Americans and indeed the world and show relevance for US unpopular surge in Afghanistan

Since terrorism is a world concern, can US allow a UN or Hague kind of inquiry into what happened so that we that are not directly connected can fill in many gaping holes needing answers? In the same vein, can the faceless second Nigerian arrested be known so that he could explain his own side of the story, especially, when US authorities did not hide his arrest and “verbal disruptiveness?” 

In all this, one thing is clear; Umar Farouk Abdul Muttallab attempted to detonate an explosive on US air space. Outside this, everything appears like “a single story” and in a world where information is distilled, I am not prepared to be herded like a cow. 

On a larger picture, what does this portend? Media hype again has been sounding out Yemen, including US Senator John McCain’s visit to that country. What deeper interests have US in Yemen or rather, does US have interest in Yemen? Maybe. 

On Nigeria side, when the British left in 1960, they handed over power to Northern Nigeria, the Muslim enclave. I had written in my previous article “Body Bombers,” that the Nigeria power structure will likely change now that the West is more interested in terrorism. Will Umar Farouk Abdul Muttalab's wasted attempt portend a beginning of the dawn of that change? US and its allies know too well that were Al Qaeda to penetrate Nigeria, North of Nigeria will provide a fertile ground with the presence of Almajiris always ready to attack Christians mostly from Eastern Nigeria. What could be US interests if Nigeria no longer exists as a country or rather, does US have any interest at all? Maybe.

I understand that the would be bomber has headed off to a US federal prison in an undisclosed location. While he awaits his day in court, it is important that security alerts observed in the West should also be observed in Asia region. This is because while Southern Nigeria does not normally replicate events or incidences in the North, a few myopic Northern elements may try “balance of terror” in order to douse the mounting criticism of the North as I have seen in internet portals. Such elements may find willing Southerners, probably from the Eastern stock and with whatever inducement try a repeat action. They may not necessarily head to the west, they may try Asia, likely China or Japan so that the “risk would be spread.” 

Let’s not forget that Nigeria is a country that caught a leader of a fundamentalist organization and rather than try him, summarily executed him. That was the Boko Haram incident. Something was obviously fishy, something was being hidden and those hidden points may have found expression in Umar Farouk Abdul Muttallab whom both his family and state has denied.  

By Patrick Nwadike

Patrick Nwadike [email protected] is a member, Foreign Correspondent Club of Japan.


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