In Internet Posts, Clues To Accused Terrorist
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
New details now about the suspect in the attempted bombing of a Northwest airliner on Christmas Day, the man at the center of it all, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is a 23-year-old Nigerian student. He went to a British boarding school in the African nation of Togo and then studied mechanical engineering in London. And now, investigators are sifting through hundreds of Internet postings that he appears to have written.
Here to give us the latest on the investigation is NPR's counterterrorism correspondent Dina Temple-Raston. And, Dina, President Obama made a statement this afternoon from his vacation in Hawaii. First, what did he have to say?
DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, basically he acknowledged what he called a systematic failure and said that he had given his advisors two days to report back to him on what needs to be fixed. And he confirmed that the suspect's father had indeed warned the U.S. embassy about his son last month, but that information wasn't passed along to the right people. He said that was unacceptable and it was going to change.
SIEGEL: Onto the investigation now. Tell us about the Internet postings. And assuming they were written by the suspect, what did they say about him?
TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, law enforcement sources are telling us that they believe these Internet postings were written by someone using the name Farouk1986, and they were - Farouk1986 is Abdulmutallab. They're trying to confirm that now through IP addresses and linking them more directly to the suspect. But there's really good reason to believe that Farouk1986 and Abdulmutallab are one and the same. And there are more than 300 postings. And they go back as far as 2005.
And, frankly, they start out sounding just like writings of any lonely teenager who's at boarding school. You know, they talk about not having any friends or being depressed or not knowing what to do. And then as time goes on, they talk about difficulties in being a good Muslim. Things like, you know, how do you avert your eyes when a woman approaches? Or is it permissible as a Muslim to go to a prom?
And all these postings were on an Islamic bulletin board called Gawaher, which means jewels in Arabic. And we first learned about this from CBS News last night. They talked about these postings.
SIEGEL: And why do officials believe that this Farouk1986 would be the same person?
TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, there are some details that certainly match up. Farouk1986 talks about preparing to leave a British boarding school in Togo for college. That timing matches up when Abdulmutallab left his Togo school. He complains about being out of touch with his prosperous family in Nigeria. The suspect's father is a prominent Nigerian banker.
Farouk1986 gushes about being in Yemen to learn Arabic in 2004 and '05 and the suspect was there at the same time. And, of course, Farouk is Abdulmutallab's middle name, and he was born in 1986. These postings are important in so much as if they actually were written by him, they help the FBI with this next part of the investigation, which is trying to figure out how this young man became radicalized.
SIEGEL: And what do we know about that? Was he actually recruited?
TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, right now investigators believe that he was self-radicalized. In other words, there wasn't a recruiter who sought him out, but instead he found like-minded people on the Internet.
SIEGEL: Which is actually becoming more and more familiar to us. This came up earlier this month when five young men from the Washington, D.C. area were picked up in Pakistan.
TEMPLE-RASTON: You're exactly right. The investigators who were looking into that say these five young men allegedly used Facebook and Internet videos on YouTube to link up with extremist groups in Pakistan. And that would be a really good example of self-radicalization.
You know, someone has to be open to it, of course, but someone looking for this on the Internet doesn't have much trouble finding it. And the officials looked at the young men's computers to see what they had watched on YouTube and that's allegedly what led them to travel to Pakistan to train to fight. And that's what they're going to be looking for in this case as well.
SIEGEL: Now, in this case, I gather we're also learning more about his falling out with his family.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Yes, that's coming out of Nigeria. Apparently, he asked his father if he could do a certain kind of Islamic study. His father said no. And he said, okay, that's it. I'm cutting off communication, and they hadn't heard from him since. That led his father to approach the U.S. embassy in Nigeria and say he was concerned.
SIEGEL: Thank you, Dina.
TEMPLE-RASTON: You're welcome.
SIEGEL: That's NPR's Dina Temple-Raston.
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