As we have come to learn, the National Security Agency (NSA) intercepted a discussion message from a branch of al-Qaida in Yemen, speaking of preparing a "Nigerian" to carry out an attack against the United States. With this information, why is it that the NSA could not place Nigerians going to Yemen and traveling to the United States under watch.
[Letter To Africa]
The question on everybody’s mind is how American intelligence could have failed woefully in stopping the attempted bombing a Northwest Airline flight from Amsterdam, Netherlands to Detroit, Michigan.
The failure has been described as colossal, given the circumstances and clear signals that were available to the intelligence agencies, not only ones they had gathered but the ones that should have been apparent by the actions of suicide bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.
Since the 9/11 attacks, America has spent billions on efforts to combat terrorism. However, it would appear that this has not been enough to prevent a simple traveler like Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, with a concealed bomb paraphernalia from boarding a flight bound for the United States.
The signs were clearly there, no doubt, but the intelligence agencies failed to connect the dots, as they say in America doublespeak, for the inability to detect terrorists bound to do harm to the United States.
Unfortunately, in the frenzied American media jingoistic reporting, Nigeria is being turned into a poster-child for terrorism, having graduated from “419”, credit and insurance frauds. Not that Nigeria doesn’t deserve a thorough examination, after all, we have seen how a Dutch man drew a cartoon of Prophet Mohammed, Muslims in the north of Nigeria rioted and killed more than a thousand people, while throughout the whole world only three other people died because of the anger over the cartoon.
We have also seen how some Nigerian states in the North had rushed to adopt Sharia laws, resulting in Amina Lawal being sentenced to be stoned to death, or the rioting that killed another more than another thousand people due of objections to Miss Universe being held in the North. But on this score of suicide bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, Nigeria could hardly be held culpable, if all the facts were to be objectively examined, which we intend to lay bare here.
As we have come to learn, the National Security Agency (NSA) intercepted a discussion message from a branch of al-Qaida in Yemen, speaking of preparing a “Nigerian” to carry out an attack against the United States. With this information, why is it that the NSA could not place Nigerians going to Yemen and traveling to the United States under watch.
In point of fact, how many Nigerians live in Yemen, and how many of those who live there are traveling to the United States. Between August and December 25, how many Nigerians had visited Yemen in that period of time? I know it is very easy to point fingers after the fact, but you intercept a message that a young Nigerian is being trained to carry out attacks against the U.S., shouldn’t this fact have been a red flag to initiate a massive search of Nigerians who had been to Yemen and are visiting the United States.
But even before the interception of the discussion within the al-Qaida group in Yemen, in May of 2009, Britain had refused to renew Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s student’s visa, claiming that he had applied to a spurious school, though the British are yet to make known the so-called spurious school he had applied to.
This is an individual who had attended a very prestigious University in England, but then to turn around and applied to a mediocre school baffles the mind. This is a young man who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, attended two prestigious schools, but now decides to apply to not even a less prestigious school, but a spurious one doesn’t make any sense.
But this refusal to renew his student visa was in May, 2009, but in June, 2009, barely a month after the British had turned him down and barred him from re-entering Britain, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was issued with a two multiple entry visa to the United States for two years, allowing him to go and come as he pleased between then and June 2010.
The question is when did Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab start planning the terrorist attack. It is known that in August, 2008, he attended a seminar organized by the Al Maghrib Institute in Houston, Texas. The Institute has released a statement as follows: “We have been able to confirm from our records that the individual, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, attended a program hosted by Al Maghrib Institute in August 2008. He registered via our website on April 22, 2008 and paid by check on July 20, 2008.
On July 22, 2008 Abdulmutallab notified us of his flight arrangements. He also disclosed that he was a 21-year-old Nigerian student at University College London and London School of Economics, studying mechanical engineering and business finance, and he was living in London at the time.”
Also the State Department confirmed that Abdulmutallab had made a prior trip to the U.S. in 2004 when he was still in the British School in Lome, Togo. A DHS official confirmed that Abdulmutallab flew into Washington Dulles International Airport on July 25 and left on Aug. 5.
Records obtained by the Houston Chronicle suggest that Abdulmutallab said he attended a Global Youth and Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C., in 2004. Were these visits a trial run for what he was planning to execute on December 25, 2009, only seeking al-Qaida on how to carry it out. If these are true, then it means that it had taken five years of planning, which could suggest the so-called sleeper terrorists who lay low until they are ready to carry out their acts.
It is also known that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab finished his Islamic studies in September, 2009, that some of his class-mates saw him off at the airport.
But he did not leave Yemen, instead he disappeared into the hands of al-Qaida operatives, who must have arranged for him to disappear. He must have under a quick training, since it is known that they had already recruited him, or he had volunteered, based on his 5-year planning. It is really a frightening scenario. It is speculated that Mr. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab left Yemen around the 13th of December, for Ethiopia. The Ethiopian government has not said how long he stayed in Ethiopia. His next destination was Ghana.
It was in Ghana that the KLM office there in Accra sold him a one-way ticket for $2,831 in cash. This is where the whole thing starts to muddy up. According to all accounts, Mr. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab not only paid for his one-way ticket in cash, but refused to provide a contact address. Why is the KLM office in Accra, Ghana, not coming for a withering probe and criticism beats the imagination. How could an airline, with the international standing as that of KLM, sell a one-way ticket to an individual who refuses to provide a contact address?
On the 24th of December, 2009, Mr. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab left Ghana arriving in Nigeria at 2008 hours (8.08 pm), and checked back in to the airport for the Amsterdam-Detroit flight at 2038 hours (8.38 pm), according to Nigeria’s Minister of Information, Dora Akunyili. That’s barely 30 minutes that he stayed in Nigeria, after more than five years of absence. The dispute that has arisen between Ghana and Nigeria as to which country is more culpable is amusing if not laughable. Ghana said he must have stayed in Nigeria for three hours, but what difference does that make from the fact that the ticket was purchased in Ghana for cash, without a contact address.
It is from here on that American intelligence agencies should come under withering criticism for their incompetence and failure to apprehend Mr. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab before he boarded the flight. As is known, flight and passenger information are forwarded to the TSA.
On examining the information, it is incomprehensible that they would have noticed an individual who bought a one-way ticket with cash, didn’t provide a contact address, didn’t check in a luggage, if as he had said he was going to attend a seminar in America. Which is where these seminars he had attended should be regarded as trial run for what he intended to do on the 25th of December.
By now, every man, woman or child in Africa have heard of the name Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a name that has been made infamous by what he attempted to do on that Christmas Day, December 25th, 2009. Mr. Abdulmutallab on that day attempted to blow up a Northwest Airlines Flight 253 from Amsterdam the Netherlands, carrying 278 passengers, including himself, and 11 crew members. The plane he was on, an Airbus 330, had left Amsterdam eight and a half hours earlier, and was on its final descent into the Detroit Airport in Michigan State.
Abdulmutallab had gone into the rest room and stayed for 20 minutes when he knew the plane was about to land, and when he came out, he claimed he had stomach problems and covered himself with a blanket. Obviously, Mr. Abdulmutallab had used the 20 minutes he stayed in the restroom to remove the bombing materials he had concealed on his body, actually wrapped under his underpants around his genitalia.
What happened next, had it succeeded, would have created one of the worst tragedies to hit the United States, since the 9/11 attack. What is now known is that Mr. Abdulmutallab was carrying the chemical, PETN, (pentaerythritol tetranitratce), in a small plastic bottle. This chemical is also known as corpent, pentrite, one of the most powerful high explosives. It has also been revealed that Mr. Abdulmutallab was carrying a syringe, with which he used to attempt to detonate the bomb he was carrying on his person.
In the minutes before landing, when passengers had already been warned to take their seats, and crew members were also about to take theirs, it was at this moment that Abdumutallab chose to detonate the bomb, specifically as he has allegedly told FBI agents, on U.S. soil. Abdulmutallab had turned himself into a jihadist, having given up any desire of living, but to die in the case of which he believed, but in doing so would have taken the lives of 288 other people.
It was at this time that passengers in the plane heard a popping noise, some describing it as a balloon being popped or a firecracker going off. Some passengers said they saw a flicker of light, while others said they started to smell foul odor. But others said they could see flames rising from where Abdulmutallab was sitting on seat 13A to the height of the seat and on the walls of the plane.
The fire had burnt part of Abdulmutallab’s trousers as well as his seat. Seating behind him on seat 20A was a fellow passenger Jasper Schuringa, a Dutchman who is a video director from the Netherlands. Mr. Schuringa, hearing the popping noise, immediately recognized that a terrorist act was about to be committed on the plane.
From his seat about 7 rows away, he leapt above passengers in other seats in front of him, reached Abdulmutallab’s seat where with help of others subdued him. He snatched the plastic bottle from Abdulmutallab’s hand and tossed it away. Then he dragged him, with the help of other passengers, to the front where all his clothes were removed.
When asked what he was carrying, Abdulmutallab explosives device in his pocket. The device consisted of a six-inch (15-cm) packet of powder and a syringe containing a liquid, which were sewn into the suspect’s underwear, according to media reports. A flight attendant produced a hang-off and Mr. Abdulmutallab was handcuffed to the floor. The plane was surrounded by security forces, and the terrorist suicide bomber had been stopped from killing 288 passengers and himself, and plunging the world to another series of wars.
What is known so far is that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was born in Nigeria and the son of Umar Abdulmutallab Sr., a wealthy Nigerian banker who was first appointed Commissioner of Economic Development in the military government of Murtala Mohammed in 1975, and then Commissioner of Cooperative and Supply under the Obasanjo military administration.
Then later on, he was appointed chairman of the Union Bank, before being appointed chairman of Nigeria’s largest bank, the First Bank. Although it is not the purview of this article, everybody is blabbing how this man is very wealthy, but nobody has stopped to ask the question how he became this rich? Did he inherit his wealth? How did he accumulate so much money? Through what company or products did he make his money? Was he one of those he stole a lot of money from their positions as public servants? All these questions are not being answered because of the singular act of Mr. Abdulmutallab reporting his son to U.S. authorities.
We are left with the fact that at age 12 or thereabouts, Mr. Mutallab sent his son to the British School in Lome, Togo, a prestigious and quite expensive school for the rich in Nigeria. Upon graduation there, he applied and was accepted to the University College London, where tuition could run as high as $60,000 a year, excluding living expenses. However, Mr. Abdulmutallab Jr., didn’t have to worry about that because his father had purchased a condo in London’s tonier West End of $6.5 million, when millions of Nigerians could hardly afford $2 a day.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab never worked a day in his life, having unproductive life in which he could indulge in radical Islam, rising to the position of president of the Muslim Society at the University College London. He graduated from University College London with a degree in mechanical engineering in 2008, which means he must have been a brilliant student.
Again, the fact that his father must have sewn the seed of Islamic radicalization is not being articulated here: the father felt strongly about Islam that he decided the banking system was not good enough, was not practicing Islamic banking laws, that he pushed hard to found the first Islamic bank in Nigeria.
And the question as to what the mother’s role was, a Yemeni citizen, had played in pushing the young Abdulmutallab to Yemen, has neither being discussed as well.
So we arrive at the scenario where Abdulmutallab Jr. has concluded his Islamic studies in Yemen at the end of September. His schoolmates see him off at the airport, at least that was what they thought, without knowing that he turned around and disappeared with the al-Qaida organization there.
His parents expect him to return to Nigeria, but instead he texted with a warning that they should stop looking for him. To their dismay he sent them a text. He told his bewildered parents to renounce him as their son. He told them he has found a new life in Yemen and would have no further contact with his Nigerian family. He asked them to forgive him of any wrongdoing and that he had ceased to be their child. He also said he was no longer coming home. He then admonished his parents never to contact him as he would never reach them again. It was the last contact his family had with him.
After this text message, Mutallab was said to have lost his cool and exploded in rage. He told family members that he would go to Yemen to forcefully bring back Farouk. He was, however, advised to alert the security forces as it was not going to be easy to go to another country and whisk anyone away. He then contacted a former national security adviser, who told him to meet the NIA as the matter falls within their jurisdiction. It was at this point that Mutallab met with the NIA. He also met CIA officials in Nigeria. Mutallab was said to be waiting for the outcome of his warning when the incident occurred yesterday.”
If we were to examine all the signals that should alerted American intelligence to a potential suicide bomber on Northwest Flight 253, how a passenger paid for a one-way ticket with cash, didn’t provide a contact address, didn’t check in any luggage, how the NSA had intercepted conversation between al-Qaida members of the use of a Nigerian to carry out an attack on the U.S., how the father of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab risked everything to warn U.S. authorities about his son’s behavior which was ignored, it would take a long time to finish this article.
But one erroneous fact we want to correct here is the speculation that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab did not possess a valid passport: he possessed a valid Nigerian passport due to expire in 2011. He would not have received a valid U.S. visa issued in a U.S. Consulate in London, if he didn’t possess a valid passport.
Again, we have to caution about hailing Alhaji Umar Mutallab as an hero, as some in the American media are trying to do for seeking help from the American embassy in finding his son and his expression of concern about his son’s radical Islamic turn.
What is being focused on is how wealthy the family is, but the question of how he accumulated so much money without evidence of how he made that money should give pause to those who are trying to extol his virtues.
It is incomprehensible that a man whose more than 95% of his people, especially those in the North, live in abject poverty should have spent $6.5 million in purchasing an apartment in London for his son, is totally an irresponsible act and should be condemned not praised, no matter how in an act of desperation he sought out U.S. authorities.
Onyeani is publisher of The African Sun Times