February 16, 2010
Anna Christopher, NPR
OF CHRISTMAS DAY BOMB SUSPECT
THREE NPR NEWS CORRESPONDENTS TRAVEL TO NIGERIA, GHANA, TOGO, YEMEN AND ENGLAND
TO DOCUMENT THE YOUTH AND RADICALIZATION OF ABDULMUTALLAB
MULTIPART SERIES BEGINS WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 17
ON MORNING EDITION AND ALL THINGS CONSIDERED
"Going Radical" is the result of weeks of investigation and travel by Counterterrorism Correspondent Dina Temple-Raston in London, where as a college student, Abdulmutallab had contact with two suspected terrorists and was potentially recruited by cleric Anwar Awlaki; Africa Correspondent Ofeibea Quist-Arcton in Nigeria and nearby Togo, to understand the privileged upbringing of the would-be bomber; and Middle East Correspondent Peter Kenyon in Yemen, where a young Abdulmutallab was first exposed to radicalism and likely completed his transition to militant Jihadist on a visit last year. Together, NPR's correspondents have assembled one of the clearest portraits of Abdulmutallab – visiting the places that most influenced the path he chose.
Quist-Arcton begins NPR's series in Nigeria, the birthplace and childhood home of Abdulmutallab. She reports that as a youth, he began to feel alienated from his well-heeled upbringing and questioned his father's profitable but unIslamic banking career. He moved to an exclusive British high school in nearby Togo, where his devotion to Islam deepened; early internet postings reveal his conflict over his current life and the life he thought he should be leading as a true Muslim. Quist-Arcton also spends time in overwhelmingly Muslim northern Nigeria, to explore life in the region, understand how people live their faith and examine whether the region is an incubator for young radicals.
Moving to London, where Abdulmutallab attended University College London from 2005-2008, Temple-Raston reports that the Guantanamo Bay prison played a major role in his transformation from political student to potential terrorist. He became increasingly focused on the former detainee community in Britain and spent months organizing a conference he felt would highlight the injustices there. Temple-Raston also investigates the known relationship between Abdulmutallab and Anwar Awlaki, the American-born imam at the center of a number of terrorism plots against the United States. Intelligence officials tell NPR that it appears Abdulmutallab was Awlaki's first al-Qaeda recruit, and allowed him to get a promotion within the group's ranks. And, to understand the process of recruiting potential radicals, a former Islamist takes Temple-Raston on a tour of the London mosque frequented by Abdulmutallab, to explain how "one-on-one cultivation" is done.
Kenyon spent weeks in Yemen documenting the impact of the poor, barely governed country on a young Abdulmutallab, who spent time there in 2005 and again last year. Through conversations with those who had contact with him, along with some of his internet postings about his self-described "jihad fantasies," Kenyon reports that Abdulmutallab came under the influence of hardliner religious institutions and was inspired in particular by Awlaki.
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"Going Radical" is a series of NPR's newly established Investigative Unit, which crosses all news desks and programs to build upon, and strengthen the commitment to, NPR's established investigative work. Last month, as part of reporting for this series, NPR broke the news that British and U.S. intelligence authorities had linked Abdulmutallab to two suspected terrorists in London. Recent NPR News investigative series include an exposé on the bail bond system, which keeps a half-million non-violent inmates in jail because they can't make bail, and a three-part series produced in collaboration with the Center for Investigative Reporting on the U.S. government's use of confidential informants.