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In Nigeria, Abdulmutallab's family issued its first formal statement today. They described his recent behavior as entirely out of character. And to give us a better understanding of that character, we have this profile from NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: By all accounts, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is a well-educated, devout Muslim from a wealthy northern Nigerian family. The 23-year-old graduated last year from prestigious University College London, where he studied mechanical engineering and went on to further studies in Dubai before telling 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. 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 alleged attempt to blow up the Northwest airliner on Christmas Day.

Ms. DORA AKUNYILI (Information Minister, Nigeria): The father, Alhaji Umaru Mutallab, who is a responsible and respected Nigerian, has already expressed deep shock and regret over his son's action. 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.

QUIST-ARCTON: In its statement today, Abdulmutallab's family said that before cutting ties, he had never displayed any behavior to give them concern. Mike Rimmer, his history teacher for three years at the exclusive British School in Togo, West Africa, said he couldn't believe his ears when he heard the news.

Mr. MIKE RIMMER (History Teacher, British School of Lome): I was absolutely shocked. I was expecting great things from Umar. I certainly wasn't expecting this. He was a great lad.

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

Mr. RIMMER: Oh, with the benefits of hindsight, I suppose, yes, he was always very religious and some of the things he said, I thought, were a bit over the top. For example, in 2001, we had a number of discussions - class discussions about the Taliban. And all the other Muslim kids in the class though they were just a bunch of nutters. But Umar spoke in their defense. I thought maybe he was just playing devil's advocate.

QUIST-ARCTON: In a BBC interview, fellow high school student Efemena Mokedi said he was astonished to hear about his friend.

Mr. EFEMENA MOKEDI (Student): Umar Mutallab was a very friendly person. You know, we played on the same basketball team growing up. He was a very devoted, religious person. He was an honest person. So the numbers do not add up.

QUIST-ARCTON: Trying to piece together what might have caused the schoolboy his friends reverentially called the pope to disown his family remains confusing.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Dakar.

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