Abdulmutallab: 'Good-looking, bright and heading for the top. What a waste'

A serious teenager who skipped the school disco, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab seemed to classmates at the expensive British School in Togo, west Africa, to be studious, good-looking and from a wealthy family – heading, like many of them, for a top job in a lucrative profession.



He quickly won a reputation at the secondary school in the Togan capital, Lome, for Islamic scholarship and implacable faith – by 17 he was leader of the school's Islamic Religious Society, preaching about Islam to peers, and popularly called "Alfa", a local coinage for Islamic scholar.

With hindsight, there were signs of radical views, according to a former history teacher at the school, Michael Rimmer. "In 2001 we had a number of class discussions about the Taliban," said Mr Rimmer. "All the other Muslim kids in the class thought they were just a bunch of nutters, but Umar spoke in their defence." During a school trip to London the boy became extremely upset when a teacher took children inside a pub. Abdulmutallab insisted that it was wrong to be in a place where alcohol was served. Mr Rimmer added: "He was a good looking guy, bright, from a good family and heading for a good job in a top profession. It seems such a waste."

One schoolfriend said: "He was not a party boy. He would never go to the disco. One time during Ramadan, a group of us were going to the disco to have fun. He gently but firmly told us this would be un-Islamic."

Abdulmutallab's wealthy parents raised him to be an observant Muslim. In Nigeria, he was brought up amid the trappings of luxury as part of a select community for whom rooftop swimming pools and helipads were routine mod cons. Dinner guests included some of the most influential men in the country.

His father, Alhaji Umaru Mutallab, was a banker whose friends were ministers, and who by 1999 had risen to become chairman of the First Bank of Nigeria, a position he only relinquished earlier this month. While leading the institution he helped found Nigeria's first Islamic bank, Jaiz International.

It was during a visit to Dubai that Abdulmutallab made it clear he no longer wanted anything to do with his family. His father warned American officials at the US embassy in Lagos that he was deeply concerned that his son had been "radicalised" while abroad. It is this that British and American security officials are investigating, looking for any clues that might tie him to known radicals. A central focus for these investigations is Abdulmutallab's time in London, where, after he finished school (completing an international baccalaureate with high marks), he studied mechanical engineering at University College London.

His family's wealth meant he was able to live in a £3m, three-bedroom apartment in Mansfield Street, close to Oxford Street. It was during these three years in Britain that his religious convictions are thought to have hardened, making him increasingly intolerant of what he perceived as the West's infringements on the Muslim world.

These increasingly extreme views were hinted at in a conversation with a friend in 2006 who said: "We were talking about 9/11. I was saying under no circumstances could it ever be OK to kill all those innocent people. He was much more equivocal. He called 9/11 an act of war – American troops were on Saudi soil and had humiliated Muslim countries so these actions might be necessary. That's the only time I had an argument with him."

The final transition from religious devotee to extremism is thought to have taken place in the 18 months since June 2008, when he graduated from university. In London the US Embassy gave him a two-year visa granting right of entry to the US.

Having left London, he spent time in Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana and Yemen – and it is Abdulmutallab's movements in Yemen, where there is high-level terrorist activity, that would shed light on the extent of his involvement in broader radical networks.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home