By UDUMA KALU
In Decembr 25, 2009, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, became Nigeria’s first suicide bomber when he tried to blow a US-bound flight. The ignition system failed, and Mutallab was tackled by a fellow passenger and subdued until the flight landed.
Though Mutallab’s trial ended last Thursday with a life jail in prison without parole, more Nigerians have learnt to be like him. There are now many suicide bombers in the country, wreaking havoc and killing thousands in attempt imposing sharia in Nigeria.
However, the verdict has also shown the division between North and South of Nigeria. A neighbour of the Abdulmutallab family in Kaduna, prominent rights activist Shehu Sani, said a lighter sentence would give Umar Farouk a deserved chance to rehabilitate. The blame should lie with the terrorists who took advantage of the model student, as he was too young to know better, he said.
Some in the Muslim north think the whole case is a US conspiracy. There is far less sympathy for him in the Christian south. Matthew, a banker, said that a death sentence would be justified. Having harmed Nigeria’s image, as Boko Haram is doing now, Matthew said the 25-year-old does not deserve a second chance.
However, Mutallab’s trial revealed the lie that poverty fuels Boko Haram or any of the Islamic fundamentalism in Nigeria. In fact, some of the known leaders of Islamic terrorists came from wealthy backgrounds. When Mutallab, pleaded guilty to attempting to blow up a commercial plane as a would-be suicide mission for al-Qaeda, his family quickly called on the US government to review the sentence.
“This was an act of terrorism that cannot be quibbled with,” Judge Edmunds said, as she imposed the maximum sentence.
In statement to the BBC, the family of Abdulmutallab said they were “grateful to God that the unfortunate incident of that date did not result in any injury or death”.
“We strongly appeal to the American justice department to review the life sentence,” they said. “We also appeal to the Federal Republic of Nigeria to continue with their support and engage with the American government to ensure that a review is made.”
Ahead of the sentencing, assistant defence lawyer Anthony Chambers argued that a life sentence for Abdulmutallab would be unconstitutional, since no other passengers were hurt.
Sentencing guidelines directed the judge to impose a mandatory life sentence, but Mr Chambers appealed for a lighter term.
“Not one passenger lost his or her life. Not one passenger suffered life-threatening injuries,” he said.
Prosecutors said a life sentence was warranted because an attempted terror attack heightens public fear and burdens airports with expensive and time-consuming security procedures.
As part of the sentencing hearing, four passengers and a crew member aboard Flight 253 made statements, telling the judge the event had forever changed their lives.
A video from the FBI showing the power of the explosive material found in Abdulmutallab’s underwear was also shown at the hearing. As the video played Abdulmutallab twice said loudly “Allahu akbar” – Arabic for “God is great”.
Abdulmutallab himself made a brief statement. During the short trial, he had fired his lawyer and attempted to represent himself.
“Mujahideen are proud to kill in the name of God,” he said in court. “And that is exactly what God told us to do in the Quran… Today is a day of victory.”
“In quick response to some of the things that have been said, I say my life and the lives of Muslims have also changed due to the attacks on innocent civilians,” he added.
On the second day of his trial, in October, Abdulmutallab unexpectedly declared that he would plead guilty to all charges.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had pleaded guilty to eight charges, including terrorism
The bomb was a “blessed weapon to save the lives of innocent Muslims”, he told the court.
“The US should be warned that if they continue to kill and support those who kill innocent Muslims, then the US should await a great calamity… or God will strike them directly,” he added.
Investigators said Abdulmutallab admitted he was working for AQAP, and had been inspired by and had met Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical cleric who was killed in 2011 by a US drone strike in Yemen.
Abdulmutallab received the bomb, as well as training, from AQAP before travelling from Nigeria to Amsterdam.
There he boarded Northwest Airlines Flight 253 to Detroit, which was carrying 279 passengers and 11 crew members.
The bomb was not picked up in security checks at airports in Lagos and Amsterdam.
On board, the bomb failed to detonate completely and passengers had to put out the fire.
Abdulmutallab’s father, Alhaji Umaru Mutallab, an influential banker who is well connected in Nigerian politics, said he had approached the US embassy officials and Nigerian authorities in 2009 to warn them about his son. Abdulmutallab was already on a US watch list, but not a no-fly list.
The youngest of 16 siblings, Mutallab is the son of one of Nigeria’s richest men, a banker and former Federal Commissioner for Economic Development. His Yemeni mother Aisha is his father’s second wife, Aisha. Mutallab Senior was instrumental in introducing Islamic banking practices, which follow Sharia law prohibiting the charging of interest, into Nigeria. Much like Osama bin Laden, Mutallab Junior was reared in an extremely wealthy, privileged, and devout household. In private school, Mutallab preached Islam to his classmates, and was known as “Alfa,” an honorific reserved for Muslim clerics, and “the Pope,” for his piety. In 2004 he spent a year in his mother’s home country of Yemen, attending the Institute for the Arabic Language in the capitol, Sana’a. In 2005 he matriculated to University College, London, where he was president of the Islamic Society. He earned a degree in mechanical engineering there in 2008.
After graduation, Mutallab, who had come briefly under the scrutiny of Britain’s MI5 intelligence services for radical affiliations, applied for and received a multiple-entry visa to the US, valid until June of 2010. He visited Houston briefly in August 2008 to attend an Islamic conference, after which he enrolled in a masters of international business degree programme in Dubai. He had begun keeping more to himself, and wearing traditional Islamic garb.
In May 2009 Mutallab attempted re-entry into Britain, ostensibly to attend a course at a fictitious school, but was denied by the UK Border Agency, and his name placed on a Home Office watch list which was not shared internationally.
In the summer of 2009 Mutallab petitioned his father for funds to attend further Arabic courses at the Yemeni language institute he had attended in 2004. The two-month course began in August, but within the month Mutallab had dropped out, remaining in Yemen after his visa expired in September.
danger to the US, and might be in Yemen. Mutallab’s name was added to the 500,000+ Terrorist Identities list composed by the US National Counterterrorism Center. It was not added to the FBI’s 400,000 name Terrorist Screening list, from which the No-Fly list is derived. His visa was not revoked, despite the fact that his name had already crossed several intelligence desks as a potential danger due to probable connections with the terrorist organization al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, based in Yemen. Mutallab had also been linked with radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, former imam to several 9/11 hijackers, who was also in contact with Major Nidal Hassan, perpetrator of the Fort Hood, Texas shootings, just two weeks before Mutallab’s father reported him. Mutallab had met al-Awlaki in London during his university studies there, and subsequently during his time in Yemen, though this was not known until after the abortive attack.
Mutallab left Yemen on December 7 for Ethiopia, then jetted to Ghana and Lagos, and finally to Amsterdam on December 24, from where he caught the Northwest Airlines flight he then attempted to destroy, having bought his ticket earlier, in Ghana. He paid cash and checked no baggage, and did not even carry a coat for his trip to frigid Michigan. During the last hour of the flight, Mutallab spent about 20 minutes in the bathroom, afterward covering himself with a blanket at his seat. Other passengers heard strange popping sounds, then noticed a strong, acrid smell and saw Mutallab’s leg and the plane wall on fire.
Fellow passenger Jasper Schuringa, a Dutch national, tackled Mutallab and subdued him while flight attendants used fire extinguishers to douse the flames. An explosive device consisting of a six-inch packet of the plastic powder explosive PETN and an acid syringe detonator were found, the explosives sewn into his underpants (a circumstance which has caused some pundit wags to dub him the “Fruit of Kaboom” bomber).
Upon questioning by authorities, Mutallab admitted that he had obtained the explosives and instructions on their use from al Qaeda operatives in Yemen. He remains in custody at the Federal Correctional Institution in Milan, Michigan, awaiting trial for attempted murder, attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction, and attempting to blow up a US civilian plane. On January 8, 2010, Mutallab pled not guilty to all charges.