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Bomb suspect’s actions were ‘out of character’

The man suspected of trying to bomb a U.S. airliner on Christmas studied at a Dubai university through the middle of this year, a senior official at the establishment said.
/ Source: NBC, and news services

The man suspected of trying to bomb a U.S. airliner on Christmas studied at a Dubai university through the middle of this year but is no longer a student, a senior official at the school said Monday.

University of Wollongong in Dubai Vice President Raymi van der Spek told The Associated Press Monday that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab took classes for seven months beginning in January.

He declined to give details on Abdulmutallab's course of study or activities at the school, citing a university confidentiality policy. But he said "he is no longer a student."

The school, located near the beach and Dubai's palm island, is a branch of an Australian public university.

Earlier Monday, the suspect's family issued a statement saying he disappeared while studying abroad.

His family said that after his "disappearance and stoppage of communications while schooling abroad," his father reached out to Nigerian security agencies two months ago.

The statement said the father then approached foreign security agencies for "their assistance to find and return him home."

The family said: "It was while we were waiting for the outcome of their investigation that we arose to the shocking news of that day."

‘Completely out of character’
The family described Abdulmutallab's disappearance as "completely out of character".

"From very early childhood, Farouk, to the best of parental monitoring, had never shown any attitude, conduct or association that would give concern," the statement said.

The statement did not offer any specifics on where Abdulmutallab, 23, had been.

As a member of a prominent and wealthy Nigerian family, Abdulmutallab received the best schooling, from the elite British International School in West Africa to the vaunted University College London.

But the education he wanted was apparently of a different sort. As Abdulmutallab was being escorted in handcuffs off the Detroit-bound airliner he attempted to blow up on Christmas Day, he allegedly told U.S. officials that he had sought an extremist education at an Islamist hotbed in Yemen.

Privileged life
A portrait emerged of a serious young man who led a privileged life as the son of a prominent banker, but became estranged from his family as an adult. Devoutly religious, he was nicknamed "The Pope" for his sainty aura and gave few clues in his youth that he would turn radical, friends and family said.

"In all the time I taught him we never had cross words," said Michael Rimmer, a Briton who taught history at the British International School in Lome, Togo. "Somewhere along the line he must have met some sort of fanatics, and they must have turned his mind."

Abdulmutallab has been charged with trying to destroy a Northwest flight on Christmas Day with 278 passengers on board. The detonator on his explosive apparently malfunctioned and he was subdued by other passengers.

His family home sits in the northern city of Funtua, in the heart of Nigeria's Islamic culture. Religion figured into the family's life: His father, Alhaji Umar Mutallab, who had a successful career in commercial banking, also joined the board of an Islamic bank — one that avoids the kind of interest payments banned by the Quran.

The large house, surrounded by a wall and a metal fence just off the main road running through the city, stood empty, a common occurrence for a jet-set family that sought an education abroad for Abdulmutallab.

Mutallab was assisting the FBI, Information Minister Dora Akunyili said.

The elder Mutallab was "a responsible and respected Nigerian, with a true Nigerian spirit," she said. He had been estranged from his son for several months and alerted officials at the U.S. Embassy last month about the youth's growing hard-line Islamic religious beliefs.

A close neighbor told the AP he believed Abdulmutallab did not get his extremist ideas from his family or from within Nigeria.

Basiru Sani Hamza, 35, said Abdulmutallab was "very religious" and "very obedient" to his parents as a boy in the well-to-do banking family.

"I believe he must have been lured where he is schooling to carry out this attack," Hamza said. "Really, the boy has betrayed his father because he has been taking care of all their needs."

Rimmer, a teacher at his high school in West Africa, said Abdulmutallab had been well-respected.

"At one stage, his nickname was 'The Pope,'" Rimmer said from London in a telephone interview. "In one way it's totally unsuitable because he's Muslim, but he did have this saintly aura."

But Abdulmutallab also showed signs of inflexibility, Rimmer said.

In a discussion in 2001, Abdulmutallab was the only one to defend the actions of the Taliban in Afghanistan, Rimmer said. At the time, Rimmer thought the boy was just playing the devil's advocate.

He also noted that during a school trip to London, Abdulmutallab became upset when the teacher took students to a pub and said it wasn't right to be in a place where alcohol was served.

Rimmer also remembered the youngster choosing to give 50 pounds to an orphanage rather than spend it on souvenirs in London.

Rimmer described the institution — an elite college preparatory school, attended by children of diplomats and wealthy Africans — as a "lovely, lovely environment" where Christians often joined in Islamic feasts and where some of the best Christmas carolers were Muslims.

Abdulmutallab showed no signs of intolerance toward other students, Rimmer said, explaining that "lots of his mates were Christians."

The Briton noted that he has not seen or heard from his former pupil since 2003.

A Nigerian newspaper, ThisDay, said Abdulmutallab began to show his increasingly radical views on Islam during his high school days at the British International School in Lome, Togo.

Basketball player
Efemena Mokedi remembered Abdulmutallab from their days on the basketball team at the exclusive school as "a smart kid" and "a friendly person."

"He was a very religious person, a very honest person. He was friends with all the teachers," said Mokedi, who now lives in the United States, in an interview broadcast on the BBC. "Yes, I'm very surprised. ... This is really out of how he is as a person. This is unexpected ... He's a very good guy, a very good chap."

Students at his prestigious university in London, where Abdulmutallab lived in a smart white stone apartment block in an exclusive area of central London, said Abdulmutallab showed no signs of radicalization and painted him as a lax student with deep religious views.

"We worked on projects together," Fabrizio Cavallo Marincola, a 22-year-old mechanical engineering student at University College, told The Independent newspaper. "He always did the bare minimum of work and would just show up to classes. When we were studying, he always would go off to pray.

"He was pretty quiet and didn't socialize much or have a girlfriend that I knew of. I didn't get to talk to him much on a personal level. I was really shocked when I saw the reports. You would never imagine him pulling off something like this."

A message left with Marincola was not immediately returned on Sunday.

U.K. visa refused
University College London said Abdulmutallab was enrolled at the school from September 2005 to June 2008. In Nigeria, the father of Abdulmutallab said his son had been a student in London, but had left the city to travel.

Citing U.K. government sources, the BBC reported that the suspect was refused a visa to return to Britain earlier this year after he attempted to apply for a course at a non-existent college.

ThisDay, the newspaper, said Abdulmutallab left London at some point to move to Egypt, then Dubai. The government in Dubai could not immediately confirm he visited that country. A security official in Egypt said there were no records to indicate Abdulmutallab entered Egypt or had any connection to Egypt.

The security official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment on the issue.