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.

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
football
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering