MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
We begin this hour with an NPR News investigation. As part of our series Going Radical, we've been retracing the steps of terrorism suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. He is the Nigerian charged with trying to blow up a U.S. passenger plane on Christmas Day. In a moment, we'll hear from the young man who sat next to him on that flight to Detroit. But first, the allegations against Abdulmutallab have shown a light on predominantly Muslim northern Nigeria, his home region, and whether it has become an incubator for extremism.
NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports.
OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: After the arrest of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in the U.S. on terrorism related charges, northern Nigerians were vocal in their thoughts about whether their region could be breeding terrorists.
Mr. ALHAJA ZULA'ATU SHEHU BELLO (Special Advisor, Governor of Kaduna): Because of the poverty we have here, you're trying to find what you can eat with your family, so you don't have time to start training terrorists. You don't have the time.
QUIST-ARCTON: Alhaja Zula'atu Shehu Bello is the special advisor to the governor of Kaduna, Abdulmutallab's home state where he grew up in an affluent family. Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula claimed responsibility for his failed alleged attempt on the U.S. passenger airliner.
Ms. BELLO: The average Nigerian person never heard of any group called al-Qaida. They don't know what they do. They've never heard of them.
QUIST-ARCTON: Last month, the U.S. secretary of State said Nigeria's leaders had failed to respond to the needs of young people. Hillary Clinton warned that Nigeria faced the threat of radicalization. She pointed to what she called lamentable living standards and unbelievable corruption in this country that supplies the U.S. with crude oil. Analysts warn of a potentially combustible cocktail of northern Nigeria's alienated and impoverished majority coupled with local opposition to American policies in Islamic countries and U.S. support for Israel. They say this makes this region ripe for al-Qaida and other anti-American extremist groups hunting for recruits. Following the bungled Christmas Day attack, the U.S. placed Nigeria on a watch list requiring tighter security and airport screening. Some prominent northern Nigerians, including former Kaduna governor and local sage Abdulkadir Balarabe Musa, put Washington on notice.
Mr. ABDULKADIR BALARABE MUSA (Former Governor, Kaduna): America is misusing its power dangerously. But let me tell you, what America sees as Islamic fundamentalism exist to a very large extent in the north. If America sees this as evidence of the existence of al-Qaida, they're making a terrible mistake which will eventually create al-Qaida here.
QUIST-ARCTON: There have been no known al-Qaida attacks in Nigeria, though the north has witnessed violent anti-government uprisings by local radical Muslim sects and periodic eruptions of religious violence.
Unidentified Woman: Good morning. How are you?
Unidentified Group: How are you?
QUIST-ARCTON: Of concern to local and foreign observers are the thousands of Quranic schools in this region that are hard to regulate.
Unidentified Group: (Foreign language spoken)
QUIST-ARCTON: Islamic education is important in northern Nigeria and begins at an early age. Women such as these at the Chanchangi Institute in Kaduna are taught how to bring up their children correctly in Islam.
Unidentified Group: (Foreign language spoken)
QUIST-ARCTON: This (unintelligible) is respected throughout the region and young children from as far away as neighboring Niger, Cameroon, and Chad attend Quranic schools like this one. These children, an hour's drive from Kaduna, are reciting the Quran. There are score of them here, far away from parental guidance, nominally under the care of an imam. Vigilance is a key, says Alhaji Sambo Idris Sambo, the district head of Funtua, the ancestral hometown of the terror suspect Abdulmutallab. He says they would not allow any school to teach un-Islamic values.
Mr. ALHAJI SAMBO IDRIS SAMBO (District Head, Funtua): We know our schools, especially the Islamic schools because we really monitor most of the goings-on. And if there is any teaching that un-Islamic rule wouldn't have allowed it to continue. Islam does not preach violence. Islam is for peace.
QUIST-ARCTON: Writer and Kaduna-based human rights campaigner Shehu Sani looks at this problem from a different angle.
(Soundbite of crowd)
QUIST-ARCTON: As children head home from a nearby Quranic school, he points down the road from his house to a forlorn-looking compound where he says an active American consulate used to be until it closed its doors about 15 years ago. Sani said with its influential presence, Washington made a big mistake abandoning its northern Nigeria post leaving others to step in.
Mr. SHEHU SANI (Writer and Human Rights Campaigner): And as such that vacuum has now been filled by countries from the Middle East that are coming here, giving scholarships to groups and individuals to study in Yemen, in Afghanistan, in Pakistan. And I believe that U.S. can win the hearts of people here by restoring such programs that it used to do in the '70s and '80s. Centers that will educate and enlighten people will be a very strong way.
QUIST-ARCTON: Sani said such a move would likely reduce anti-American foreign policy sentiment in northern Nigeria.
Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News.