The Past, Present, and Future of Farouk Abdulmutallab

What led Abdulmutallab to attempt igniting explosives on a Christmas flight and what's next for him?

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A Nigerian college kid studying engineering in London, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab certainly doesn't sound like a would-be terrorist. So why did Abdulmutallab try to ignite explosives, which he says he got from al-Qaeda in Yemen, on a Northwestern flight on Christmas? Abdulmutallab's father, a Nigerian banker, warned U.S. officials that his son had developed radical ideas and then disappeared. Why was Abdulmutallab still allowed to travel inside the U.S.? Perhaps most pointedly, what will happen next to the failed bomber, who is currently housed in a federal prison in Michigan? To be sure, he and his failed attack represent broader questions about airport security, anti-terrorism, and al-Qaeda in Yemen. But what's next for Abdulmutallab?

  • What He Represents  The New Yorker's Steve Coll contextualizes. "Abdulmutallab appears cut from the now-familiar cloth of transnational Islamic violence: As the analyst Marc Sageman once formulated it, the biography is one of dislocation and radicalization that often seems to involve a young man who is raised in country A, becomes radicalized in country B, and then decides to attack country C, with “C” often (but not always) being the United States," he writes. "The best clues about the mystery of Abdulmutallab’s relationship, if any, with other radical Islamists will probably lie in the technical sophistication and history of his thwarted pants-on-fire bombing plan."
  • The Life of Abdulmutallab  Nigerian newspaper This Day profiles the young man (link via Steve Coll), who "had been noted for his extreme views on religion since his secondary school days at the British International School, Lome, Togo. At the secondary school, he was known for preaching about Islam to his school mates and he was popularly called “Alfa”, a local coinage for Islamic scholar. After his secondary school, the suspect went to University College London to study mechanical engineering and later relocated to Egypt, and then Dubai. While in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, he declared to his family members that he did not want to have anything to do with any of them again." Click through for more.
  • His Civilian Trial Will Show They're Safe  The Washington Monthly's Steve Benen compares Abdulmutallab's little-noticed detention in Michigan and his impending civilian trial to the apoplexy over other terrorists getting the same treatment. "Abdulmutallab is, by all appearances, a two-bit thug. His presence in a federal prison, and later in a federal criminal court, is not cause for panic. It's simply the justice system at work -- we've done this before; we'll do this again. It's best not to freak out," he writes. "But the larger point has broader applicability. Bringing Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to a federal court need not terrify Americans, nor should Khalid Sheik Mohammed's proceedings. Putting Abdulmutallab behind bars on American soil does not undermine our national security, and nor would any of the detainees at Gitmo."
  • No Fault On No-Fly List  Democracy Arsenal's Michael Cohen takes on criticism that U.S. officials should have known not to let Adbulmutallab enter. "After all, his father warned the US government of his radical views in November. But the father provided minimal information and there was little reason to believe that Abdulmutallab was a serious threat. I suppose there is a view that US intelligence agencies operate like they do in the movies but the fact is the USG simply lacks the resources to run down every possibly radicalized individual out there."
  • Should Be Jailed Permanently, Interrogated  Weekly Standard's Michael Goldfarb calls for it. "If he were treated as an enemy combatant and transferred to military commission system, we could use Army Field Manual techniques without Miranda (not as effective as enhanced techniques, of course, but much better than standard police practice). We could use his non-Mirandized statements against him in military commissions, so long as the statements were not forcibly coerced and were otherwise reliable. Instead, it's three squares a day, the best legal defense the ACLU can provide, and maybe the chance for parole before the kids he was trying to kill on that plane even make it out of college."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.