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Nigeria: Nigerian bloggers take on would-be bomber Umar Abdulmutallab

On December 25th, the world was taken by surprise when news broke that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old Nigerian citizen, had nearly succeeded in detonating explosives on a Northwest Airlines flight between Amsterdam and Detroit. The incident was the latest in a series of close-calls in airline terrorism since the attacks of September 11, 2001 and was the first case of a Nigerian attempting to carry out a suicide bombing on American soil.

In the immediate wake of the attempt, there was much speculation about the young Nigerian's background, motives and possible connections to al-Qaeda. Over the next few days it emerged that Abdulmutallab was the youngest son of prominent Nigerian banker Alhaji Umaru Abdul Mutallab; soon after it was revealed that the “underwear bomber” – as Abdulmutallab became known –  was a devout but conflicted Muslim and a lonely young man who had received much of his education in Dubai, the United Kingdom, and Yemen.

Prior to the attack, Abdulmutallab had gone missing in the latter country for two months, before which he reportedly told his family to “forget” about him as he was never coming back. Alarmed, his father notified the US Embassy in Abuja as well as other security agencies; as a result Abdulmutallab was added to the US's counterterrorism database, but was not added to the “no-fly list”.

After leaving Yemen, Abdulmutallab spent a short period in Ethiopia and Ghana, then passed briefly through Nigeria en route to the Netherlands where he would board NWA flight 253 to Detroit.

When news of the attempted attack first broke, many Nigerians were caught by surprise, some even doubting whether Abdulmutallab was truly a Nigerian.

Imnakoya at Grandiose Parlor wrote:

I wondered, is this Mudallad a real Nigerian? Having a Nigerian passport is not a cast-iron proof of nationality given the extent of corruption in the nation.

Jide Salu agreed:

Believe me; Nigerians are too cowardly to be terrorists. Our attitude to death is simple; let it be as natural as possible, preferably in bed, sleeping in total oblivion, after a good night out at a party.

When the news was released that Abdulmutallab was beyond doubt a Nigerian citizen, some found consolation in the fact that many of his formative experiences had been made abroad. In a thoughtful post entitled “What does it mean to be a Nigerian?”, Seyi at Heal Nigeria wrote:

If Umar AbdulMutallab was a son of a “Mr Nobody”, it is likely that we will still be arguing over his nationality. It wouldn’t come as a surprise if the govt says, his father is an “illegal immigrant” in Nigeria.

Many have argued that Umar AbdulMutallab cannot be classified as typical Nigerian because of the length of time he spent overseas…. So as far as most Nigerians are concerned, Umar AbdulMutallab hasn’t exposed to the traditional Nigerian upbringing. And considering the limited time he spent living in his home country, there was no way he could have been ‘radicalised’ in Nigeria.

Jr Chiahanam Kanu of Solving Africa worried that Abdulmutallab's actions would sink Nigeria's already floundering reputation:

There’s an Igbo proverb that says, “If one finger touches palm oil, it spreads to all the other fingers.” This is indicative of how Nigerians the world over felt when they heard the news of a young man who attempted to detonate a bomb on U.S. soil in the name of Al Qaeda. Many of us worried that the actions of this one finger would spread to cover the entire 150 million of us.

Though he managed to find a silver lining in the events:

And then the next day, the news surfaced that the young man’s father had sent word months earlier to security forces saying he was worried that his son had become radicalized and might even be a threat. In an instant, I was again proud to be Nigerian. I was relieved that the shame that would have hung over my country’s reputation by adding terrorism to the list of already popular vices was abated. Yet somehow, the newsflash on CNN did not reflect this development as fervently as I’d hoped.

He concluded:

If all British citizens don’t have to carry the stigma of the shoe bomber, if all Oklahomans, don’t have to bear the shame of the Oklahoma bombings, then let the world be mindful of the invidious conclusions it so easily makes when someone from a poorer nation commits similar crimes. And if this is too much to ask, then let the oil of his father’s noble and highly sacrificial actions spread to cover those worried 150 million fingers.

And indeed, as many had feared, on January 4th,  the US government added Nigeria to a 14 country “watch-list”. The list designates four “state sponsors of terrorism” (Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria) as well as 10 “countries of interest” including – in addition to Nigeria – Yemen, Pakistan, Iraq, and Algeria. Passengers flying to the United States from Nigeria and the 13 other countries listed will be subjected to enhanced security screenings, including full-body pat-downs.

In the following days, many Nigerians vented their displeasure by commenting in facebook forums such as “150 million Nigerians disown Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab” and “Get us off that list: Nigerians are not terrorists.”

Chippla Vandu had a different take on “disowning ” Abdulmutallab:

To “disown” connotes a refusal to accept as one's own or to repudiate. Irrespective of what one may say or think, Umar Farouk is a Nigerian. And while his actions certainly do not represent what one could expect from a “typical” Nigerian male adult (Muslim or not), disowning him does not in any way help understand why he did what he did and ensure that such does not happen again.

Citing a Pew Research Center poll which found that 43% of Nigerian Muslims support suicide bombing, Chippla continued:

How does disowning him help Nigerians understand what role extreme Islamic ideology played in causing him to attempt detonating an explosive device on board a US-bound airliner? How does it help Nigerians understand the complex interplay of religious faith, access to extremist religious groups and ideological brainwashing?

Seyi at Heal Nigeria also saw broader implications in Abdulmutallab's actions, pointing out that the addition of Nigeria to the “Terror watch-list” was not prompted by the events of December 25th alone.  Highlighting the recent clashes between Nigerian Security forces and militant Islamists groups such as Boko Haram and Kalo Kato, Seyi wrote:

For anyone to think that US govt reaction was just because of Umar AbdulMutallab’s terrorist expedition smacks of naiveté.

With the level of corruption in Nigeria, I’m convinced that a suicide bomber can pay his/her into a passenger aircraft. For the right price, such a person would be offered a ‘first class’ seat. It is in Nigeria where Customs officials aid and abet importation of fake drugs. It is in Nigeria where Immigration officials knowingly issue passports to non-citizens using false identity. There is no doubt that the new US policy would affect every Nigerian, irrespective of social status. Unfortunately, 150 million people will now pay for the sins of one stupid individual. Already a Nigerian traveling overseas is a suspected asylum seeker, suspected over stayer, suspected illegal immigrant, suspected identity fraudster, suspected drug courier, and now a suspected terrorist.

Seye Abimbola also wondered about increasing religious extremism in Nigeria, describing recent minor clashes at his university. Seye concluded:

Mild as these incidents were, what they show is that for these to happen in the liberal south, at the very bastion of southwestern Nigeria liberalism, you can imagine what possibly goes on in the north where some states already practice the Islamic Sharia legal system.

Chxta remarked that it was not the first time “'bigmen’ in Nigeria have gotten away with murder simply because they are ‘bigmen’”:

Earlier our beloved minister of information had attempted to shift the blame to our nice ‘bredas’ in Ghana, pointing out that the misguided young man spent only thirty minutes in Nigeria upon arrival from Ghana before he boarded that KLM flight. The memo that she did not read apparently is the one that states that if he was so disposed, he could have actually taken a motorcycle from the airport to as far as Surulere, collected the explosives there, and returned to the airport. All in less than thirty minutes. Of course at the airport no one would have asked him questions being that he is a ‘bigman’s’ son.

Some were able to see a lighter side to the attempted attack: “Rejoice!!! For the terror suspect is not Igbo” wrote Sugabelly on December 26th. Later, in an update she took a more serious tone:

It's like everyone has lost their sense of humour fa! People on twitter are giving me a hard time because I tweeted this. Oya, I'm sorry. Ndo so.

We are all Nigerians and we are all going to get shit the next time we set foot inside an airport, but let's laugh at the lighter side of this (since no one was hurt).

Be honest, when you heard a Nigerian man tried to commit a terrorist act in America, how many of you immediately thought ‘Please don't let him be [insert your ethnic group]?

Arukaino wryly tied the whole incident back to the government campaign to re-brand Nigeria, he commented:

So much for the rebranding slogan “Nigeria: Good People, Great Nation”. As a result of Abdulmutallab’s failed bomb attempt in Detroit, maybe the US could now interpret it as, “Nigeria: Good People, one terrorist, but still a Great Nation…hmmn.

(For more reactions from the Nigerian blogosphere, check here, here, here and here).

15 comments

  • We don’t need profiling to identify Individuals like the Christmas-Day Bomber!

    Virtually all media outlets are discussing whether we should be profiling all Arab Muslims; I will in the one-page explain why we don’t need profiling. Over 15 years ago, we at the Center for Aggression Management developed an easily-applied, measurable and culturally-neutral body language and behavior indicators exhibited by people who intend to perpetrate a terrorist act. This unique methodology utilizes proven research from the fields of psychology, medicine and law enforcement which, when joined together, identify clear, easily-used physiologically-based characteristics of individuals who are about to engage in terrorist activities in time to prevent their Moment of Commitment.

    The Problem
    Since the foiled terrorist attack by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian national on Northwest Flight 253 to Detroit, the President has repeatedly stated that there has been a systemic failure as he reiterates his commitment to fill this gap in our security. This incident, like the Fort Hood shooting, exemplifies why our government must apply every valid preventative approach to identify a potential terrorist.

    The myriad methods to identify a terrorist, whether “no-fly list,” “explosive and weapons detection,” mental illness based approaches, “profiling” or “deception detection” – all continue to fail us. Furthermore, the development of deception detection training at Boston Logan Airport demonstrated that the Israeli methods of interrogation will not work in the United States.

    All media outlets are discussing the need for profiling of Muslim Arabs, but profiling does not work for the following three reasons:

    1. In practice, ethnic profiling tells us that within a certain group of people there is a higher probability for a terrorist; it does not tell us who the next terrorist is!

    2. Ethnic profiling is contrary to the value our society places on diversity and freedom from discrimination based on racial, ethnic, religious, age and/or gender based criteria. If we use profiling it will diminish our position among the majority of affected citizens who support us as a beacon of freedom and liberty.

    3. By narrowing our field of vision, profiling can lead to the consequence of letting terrorists go undetected, because the terrorist may not be part of any known “profile worthy” group – e.g., the Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy McVeigh

    The Solution
    Our unique methodology for screening passengers can easily discern (independently of race, ethnicity, religious affiliation, age, and gender) the defining characteristics of human beings who are about to engage in terrorist acts.

    The question is when will our government use true “hostile intent” through the “continuum of aggressive behavior” to identify potential terrorists? Only when observers focus specifically on “aggressive behavior” do the objective and culturally neutral signs of “aggression” clearly stand out, providing the opportunity to prevent these violent encounters. This method will not only make all citizens safer, but will also pass the inevitable test of legal defensibility given probable action by the ACLU.

    As our Government analyzes what went wrong regarding Abdulmatallab’s entrance into the United States, you can be assured that Al Qaeda is also analyzing how their plans went wrong. Who do you think will figure it out first . . . ?

    Visit our blog at http://blog.AggressionManagement.com where we discuss the shooting at Fort Hood and the attempted terrorist act on Flight 253

    • masihi banda

      John

      You can speculate and hypothesize all day long but at the end of the day it’s a pure feeble-minded approach to the religion of terror and the mentality of its followers. People in America and the West have yet to understand enormity of hate and bigotry they represent. It doesn’t matter what parts of the world they come from they have the same motive which is to kill the infidels in the name of their god and establish the ancient Bedouin order.

      Its very simple, look at their history and mentality you have all the evidence you need, call it profiling or any other politically correct word of gullibility. The fact is you have to keep your eyes open and be watchful like a hawk. You have to be fast and ready to trap the rat before it has any chance of escape.

      The evidence is everywhere in the world who these terrorists are and the danger they represent to all humanity. That’s all the evidence you need for the state of readiness. Their history is enough to warrant profiling for the security of the United States and its people.

  • Dear Eremipagamo Amabebe,

    Thanks a lot for this thoughtful post. And of course, I’m humbled that my blog was also mentioned. However, I will like to point out that the quotes attributed to me is actually me quoting someone else. So, it is weird reading here that I said what in my blog was referring to what someone else said.

    I am sure this was just an oversight. However, I will appreciate it if the appropriate correction is made.

    Keep up your good work.

    Thanks

  • Hi Jennifer,

    Thanks so much for pointing this out. I thought you were citing only the proverb and didn’t realize the extent of the quotation. But I see my mistake and have changed the post to reflect this. My apologies and thanks again for pointing it out!

    Eremi

  • Re-posting my January 1, 2010 blog from http://lifelib.blogspot.com/2010/01/tribute-to-umar-farouk-abdulmutallab.html

    Pat-down searches now required at airports – assuming the airport security staff is mostly gorgeous people, this could be healthy fun for everyone. Let’s do this groping worldwide, not only in America. Imagine the possibilities…

    Humour – His attempt at terrorism has been called The Christmas Crotchfire Attack. And today, as we lit up firecrackers for New Years Day, the ones that wouldn’t ignite were named the Abdulmuttalibs. Abdul Mutilate-A-Balls. Because we love fart and butt jokes and we still can’t pronounce non-Anglo names.

    Now that it’s clear that I don’t really mean the title, and that there’s no need to put me on any bloated security lists even though I have been to Yemen (possibly my most beautiful place in the world ) and sometimes say insha’Allah and al-hamdulillah, let’s take a look at serious reasons why I don’t exactly pity or loathe the guy:

    he “got radicalized.” He came to believe in something so much that he was willing to give his life for it. Although clarity and singleness of purpose can be beautiful, I, as a scientist, do not have ANY fundamentalist beliefs – who knows what modifying discoveries tomorrow may bring?

    I may admire his quest for purity, but I don’t admire his willingness to kill other people to make his political statement. I think from now on, we need to think more Gandhi, Woodrow Wilson, Mandela – more nonviolence – and less war. I know he’ll come to this realization over the next many years in prison, and I hope he can make amends for this foolishness that caused him to take to the air and nearly kill hundreds of people, human beings.

    I think renegade terrorists and state-sponsored terrorists alike need to move on from their brutal business.

    I think terms like preemptive strike and war-on-terror are rubbish, and that by my standards I haven’t yet seen a just war fought by the US in the last ten years.

    What happened to the Powell Doctrine? Where are our military philosophers? Are they really dumb and unimaginative, are they not being heard or are they just not speaking up anymore?

    Fear is not an excuse for war. Greed or creed should never be an excuse for war. Land and country often have been excuses for war. I say we get some flexibility about how important “owning” land is, or how sacred country or faith is relative to a single human life.

    The only thing that ought to excuse war has been extinguished by now: a need to get food to survive. The world now produces enough food (in total, not evenly so.) My friends, we now have no excuse for killing one another.

    Because we are young as a human race, there may still be times when a show of violence is needed. In those times, it will be very clear that what was averted was a clear and certain danger of big big size compared to the violence applied. Such a war won’t take years, costing even the aggressor hundreds or thousands of lives.

    By this standard, Israel-Palestine is a rubbish war that ought not to be happening. Maybe we need to execute – ok, not really – the leaders on both sides because both countries are mired in hopelessness (one being reduced to a military state, the other a prison) while the leaders seem to think fighting is cool. End the bloody war: Call in Powell, Mandela, and friends. Divide up the land between the warring groups. Take feedback for a short while and make adjustments, supervised by people / institutions with high credibility as people of fairness and peace. Use military or legal force against those few who would rather have the baby cut in half, who want Jerusalem for themselves alone at whatever cost to their civilization.

    Likewise, Iraq and Afghanistan should be about getting the so-called Allied Forces out while keeping down the risk of civil war. I mean, really, I feel bad for the soldiers whose mission seems impossible to accomplish simply because it is endless. To think some of them only joined the Forces to get money for school.

    This first day of 2010, one week after the averted body bomb attack, I am thankful that George W. Bush is no longer the POTUS. Because sometimes bone-headed crackerpants come from accomplished families.

  • Thanks! :)

    Cheers

    Jen.

  • […] Aderounmu saw a connection between the conflict in Jos and the attempted bombing by Umar Abdulmutallab. He wrote: I have at least 2 entries on my blog stating that Nigeria is not a […]

  • […] frustrated many Nigerians,  particularly in the wake of crises such as  Umar Abdulmutallab's attempted terror attract and the religious conflict in the central Nigerian city of Jos. Many Nigerians called for […]

  • […] Wanaijeria wengi, hasa wakati ambao matatizo yalijitokeza kama pale Umar Abdulmutallab alipofanya jaribio la ugaidi na mgogoro wa kidini katika mji wa katikati ya Naijeria wa Jos. Wanaijeria wengi walitoa wito kwa […]

  • […] Nigerians are talking about the Underwear Bomber. Global Voices has helpfully collected some of the blogger reactions. For America, the story was about fear and terrorism and security. For Nigeria, it was about […]

  • I really wish more American Investigative Reporting had content like this.

    I am a well read American and I feel like I was 80% misinformed prior to reading this article.

    When this story first broke, the airwaves were filled with sensationalism and fluff. When the facts came out, the story was already off the front page and into the editorial pages. As a result, none of us were properly informed and all of us had newly implanted prejudices.

    Thanks for correcting my view.

    Bob

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