Bomb Suspect's Motives Baffle Family, Friends

Suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in a photo from the U.S. Marshal's Service. i i

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, has been charged in federal court with trying to detonate an explosive device on a Dec. 25 flight from Amsterdam to Detroit. U.S. Marshal's Service/AP hide caption

itoggle caption U.S. Marshal's Service/AP
Suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in a photo from the U.S. Marshal's Service.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, has been charged in federal court with trying to detonate an explosive device on a Dec. 25 flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.

U.S. Marshal's Service/AP

The family of the 23-year-old Nigerian man held after a failed Christmas Day attempt to set off an explosive device on a plane en route to Detroit issued its first formal statement Monday, describing Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's recent behavior as entirely out of character.

But his father had previously warned the Nigerian, Saudi Arabian and U.S. authorities about his son's increasingly radical views.

By all accounts, Abdulmutallab is a well-educated, devout Muslim from a wealthy northern Nigerian family.

He graduated last year from the prestigious University College London, where he studied mechanical engineering.

He had gone on to study in Dubai, then told his family he was going to Yemen. His father, Umaru Abdulmutallab, a prominent Nigerian banker, became concerned about two months ago, when his son abruptly broke off contact with the family.

The father alerted local and foreign security agencies, as well as the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria.

Information Minister Dora Akunyili told a news conference that Abdulmutallab's family was shocked to hear his name linked to the Christmas Day attempt to blow up a Northwest flight that took off from Amsterdam.

"The father — Alhaji Umaru Mutallab —- who is a responsible and respected Nigerian, has already expressed deep shock and regret over his son's action," Akunyili said. "We want to reiterate that Nigeria as a nation abhors all forms of terrorism. Nigerian security agencies are working hand in hand with international security agencies on this matter."

In its statement today, Abdulmutallab's family said that before cutting ties, the suspect had never displayed any behavior to give them concern. Mike Rimmer, his history teacher for three years at the exclusive British School of Lome in the west African nation of Togo, said he couldn't believe his ears when he heard the news.

"I was absolutely shocked," Rimmer said. "I was expecting great things from Umar. I certainly wasn't expecting this. He was a great lad. He was a model student — very keen, very enthusiastic."

Rimmer told the BBC that it hadn't occurred to him then, but perhaps there were early signs that he had missed.

"He was always very religious and some of the things he said were over the top," Rimmer recalled. "For example, in 2001 we had a number of class discussions about the Taliban. All the other Muslim kids in the class thought they were a bunch of nutters. But Umar spoke in their defense. I thought maybe he was playing devil's advocate, trying to keep the class discussion going."

Efemena Mokedi, a high school classmate of Abdulmutallab's, told the BBC he was astonished to hear about his friend, whom he described as "a very friendly person."

"You know, we played on the same basketball team growing up," Mokedi said. "He was a very devoted, religious person. He was an honest person. So the numbers do not add up."

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