Bomb Plot Suspect Tied To Alleged U.K. Terrorists Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, accused in the attempted Christmas Day airliner attack, had contacts with at least two suspected terrorists while a student in London, investigators tell NPR. Intelligence officials have linked him to a suspect in a 2006 plot against airliners and to a man implicated in a plan to behead a Muslim soldier.
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Bomb Plot Suspect Tied To Alleged U.K. Terrorists

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Bomb Plot Suspect Tied To Alleged U.K. Terrorists

Bomb Plot Suspect Tied To Alleged U.K. Terrorists

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/122868637/122937601" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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ARI SHAPIRO, host:

And now were going to hear more about the Nigerian man who's accused of trying to blow up an airplane on Christmas Day.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Well examine one phase in the life of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. Long before he boarded a plane with explosives, he spent three years as a student in London. What we've learned about his time there offers clues about how and when he might have become radicalized.

SHAPIRO: An NPR News investigation has identified some of the people he met in Londons large Muslim community. British and U.S. intelligence authorities believe Abdulmutallab knew two other men with links to terror plots.

NPRs Dina Temple-Raston reports.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: Im standing across from 2 Mansfield Street. This is where Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab lived from September 2005 to June 2008. After classes, he would return to this imposing white-colored building near Regents Park.

This is a very exclusive neighborhood, full of Mercedes and Rolls-Royces. Madonna even bought a house here. And this is where Abdulmutallab stayed, all by himself.

Dr. PETER NEUMANN (Expert on Radicalization, King's College London): As with many of these cases, the key is not necessarily the socioeconomics of the situation.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Peter Neumann is an expert on radicalization at King's College London.

Dr. NEUMANN: The key is a sense of feeling lost, a sense of searching for identity, a sense of needing something that makes sense of your life. And if at that point in time someone comes along and offers a very simplistic, yet very plausible, perhaps, explanation of what you can do with your life, that may seem attractive.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Abdulmutallab found just those sorts of people on the fringes of his school. MI5, the British equivalent to the FBI, has a list of 12 campuses it says have been fertile ground for extremist recruiters. University College London, or UCL, the school Abdulmutallab attended, is at the top of that list.

Dr. NEUMANN: Abdulmutallab, I'm pretty certain, was radicalized in London.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Again, Peter Neumann of King's College.

Dr. NEUMANN: He was president of the Islamic Society of University College London. And during that time, he regularly invited very radical speakers.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Security officials tell NPR that during that time, between 2005 and 2007, Abdulmutallab also befriended a suspected terrorist. The man's name was Waheed Zaman, and he happened to be president of an Islamic student society at another university. That school, London Metropolitan University, is also on the security services short list of campuses with radical Islamic elements.

The connection to Zaman is important. He was part of a group accused of planning a major terrorist attack back in 2006. Allegedly, they wanted to detonate homemade liquid bombs on board at least seven passenger planes. That episode is the reason you're not allowed to carry more than three ounces of liquid onto an airplane.

Security officials believe Abdulmutallab knew Zaman at the time. Zaman is about to be retried on charges linked to the plot.

Officials also tell NPR that Abdulmutallab was in contact with a second possible terrorist. That man was initially arrested two years ago as part of a plot to kidnap a British Muslim soldier and behead him. While the extent of these relationships is unclear, security officials say they're meaningful because they may shed light on when Abdulmutallab began the transformation from radical student to potential terrorist. Of course, all this seems clearer in hindsight.

Mr. PETER CLARKE (Former Director, Scotland Yard's Counterterrorism Unit): I think we have to be very wary of being too simple about this.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Peter Clarke is the former head of Scotland Yard's counterterrorism unit.

Mr. CLARKE: We need to look at underlying issues. We need to look at the individual's life. We need to look at the specific influences that came to bear upon them, whether it's key individuals or key events or a gradual process that has drawn them into the position where they're willing to kill people in the hundreds and thousands.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Britain differs from the U.S. in that it has thousands of people in what authorities call a jihadi subculture, people in contact with Muslim extremists who never intend to commit violence. U.K. authorities say they concentrated on the several hundred people they think may actually act. And there was nothing about Abdulmutallab that suggested he was in that group.

Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News, London.

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