RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This morning and over the next two days, we'll enter the world of the young man who's come to be known as the Christmas Day bomber. How he ended up on a plane headed for Detroit carrying explosives in his underwear is a story that begins in Nigeria. For the NPR News investigation Going Radical, our correspondents report from three continents. We begin with NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton in the city where 23-year-old Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had a privileged upbringing.
Unidentified Man #1: (Singing in foreign language)
OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was raised in Kaduna, a cosmopolitan Nigerian city in a region imbued with Islam. Abdulmutallab is one of more than a dozen brothers and sister from a well-to-do family. His father, Alhaji Umaru Mutallab, is one of Nigeria's most respected bankers.
Mutallab's friend and brother-in-law, Mahmoon Baba-Ahmed, says he is a devout Muslim and a disciplinarian. We spoke at his busy office.
Mr. MAHMOOM BABA-AHMED: Alhaji Umaru Mutallab is a puritan father, and he also inculcated self-discipline in a puritan manner to his children. And he would never create any situation that will warrant or allow his children to go astray or to behave indecently.
Unidentified Group: (Singing in foreign language)
QUIST-ARCTON: Abdulmutallab learned the Quran at the Rabiatu Mutallib Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies, named after his grandparents and funded by his father. Everyone I spoke to said Abdulmutallab was a pious fellow, first into the mosque for prayers and the last to leave, say his neighbors. He kept to himself, says Shehu Sani, who lives down the road from the Mutallabs.
Sani is the author of books on religious violence and terrorism in Nigeria, and says it's important to remember the backdrop to Abdulmutallab's privileged childhood in Kaduna.
Mr. SHEHU SANI (Author): From 1979 to 2009, which is 30 years, there have been over 200 incidents of violence associated with religious issues.
QUIST-ARCTON: Sani mentioned that as well as Muslim-Christian clashes and killings over the years, there have been violent reactions in northern Nigeria to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Middle East. He said Muslim youngsters like Abdulmutallab were absorbing this reality as they grew up, with some of them likely becoming radicalized without realizing it.
Mr. SANI: People who are indoctrinated are those who already have the seed of violence in them, they have the seed of hate, they have the seed of their perception that things are wrong and must be addressed drastically. And Umar Farouk came from a society that has not embraced tolerance. He came from a society that has a history of violence, of extremism, and that is a fact.
QUIST-ARCTON: As Abdulmutallab began demonstrating more devotion to his religion, I was told he increasingly resented his father's career as un-Islamic, because banks charge interest. In the family's upscale Kaduna neighborhood, a young Umar Farouk openly challenged his parents about waste and excess, chiding them to give more to the poor.
But it was when he was sent to a coed British boarding school in the nearby country of Togo that Abdulmutallab manifested a growing feeling of detachment, confusion and seeming isolation.
I've come to the exclusive British School of Lome. The British School of Lome says it's making now comments about Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab or any former students. The head teacher, Helen Brocklesby, who declined to talk to NPR, said they had issued a statement posted on the British School of Lome Web site.
Unidentified Woman: The school's been helping the relevant authorities in their investigations, and our thoughts and sympathy reach out to everyone who's been affected by these events.
QUIST-ARCTON: While he was at the British School of Lome, Abdulmutallab became increasingly depressed, alienated and conflicted about his Western lifestyle versus his quest to become a better Muslim. The evidence comes from writings intelligence officials say Abdulmutallab posted on an online chat site called Islamic Forum. He called himself Farouk1986, his name and year of birth, and began posting in late January 2005, shortly before he graduated from high school.
This post is read by an actor.
Unidentified Man #2: First of all, I have no friend. Not because I do not socialize, etc., but because either people do not want to get too close to me, as they go partying and stuff while I don't, or they are bad people who befriend me and influence me to do bad things.
QUIST-ARCTON: The writer's singular focus was always Islam, including voicing some radical jihadist fantasies, as well as his desire to study Arabic in Yemen, which he did a few months later. He also dwelt at length on the subject of temptation and how to avoid it.
Unidentified Man #2: I think this loneliness leads me to other problems. As I get lonely, the natural sex drive awakens and I struggle to control it, sometimes leading to minor sinful activities, like not lowering the gaze.
QUIST-ACTON: I.e., not averting his eyes around unveiled women, as Islam dictates. He concluded that early marriage was the only solution.
Unidentified Man #2: This problem makes me want to get married to avoid getting aroused. The Prophet advised young men to fast if they can't get married, but it has not been helping me much, and I seriously don't want to wait for years before I get married. But I'm only 18.
QUIST-ARCTON: Mahmoon Baba-Ahmed, who's related by marriage to the Mutallabs, confirmed that Abdulmutallab's preoccupation with getting married caused tension within the household and may have masked deeper problems. He said his own son, Abdulmutallab's age mate, noticed changes in his friend.
Mr. MAHMOON BABA-AHMED: Even my son has always been telling me how well-behaved Farouk is. In fact, he's telling me about the dramatic transformation from the Western way of life to the Islamic way of life. And Umar Farouk wants to live and learn the religion better and better and better. My son had mentioned that Farouk Mutallab had been chiding him for going to parties. He exhorted him to break with that style of life he is living and embrace Islam, firmly.
QUIST-ARCTON: After Mutallab's father became alarmed by his son's increasingly hard-line views and behavior. He alerted Nigerian and U.S. security agencies late last year. That was after Abdulmutallab abruptly cut ties with his family, texting his father to say he'd found real Islam in Yemen.
By then, he had abandoned a master's degree course in Dubai after graduating from university in London.
Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News.
MONTAGNE: And you can follow a timeline of the would-be bomber's life at our Web site. Tomorrow on MORNING EDITION, our NPR News investigation examines how Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab came to be radicalized in London. Later today on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, we explore whether Nigeria's predominantly Muslim north is an incubator for young radicals.
(Soundbite of music)
MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.