Part one of this article examined the growing alienation that consumed would-be airline bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab as a student in a school with few other Muslims, and the transformation that occurred when he discovered the “Islam Forum” on the internet and began to absorb the Salafist concepts explained there (see Terrorism Monitor, February 17).
By seeking a solution to his psychological and intellectual dilemma, Abdulmutallab connected himself to a “cyber ummah” [Islamic community], while his feeling of anxiety led him to different intellectual havens, particularly on the web. Three examples can be cited to reveal the change that occurred in his mind; his views on football, the mix of resources to which he resorted and his ideological attitude towards political change. The three examples show an intellectually troubled and conflicted person.
His views on football and the English league appear in his early forum contributions, in which he challenged the football knowledge of other forum participants (February 13, 2005). Yet several months later he talked about football as a waste of time causing a distraction from religious rituals. Although he did not say they should be prohibited, he called on those who practice their religion in the best manner to refrain from playing or watching football. He did, however, call for participation in martial sports such as shooting, running, etc. (November 15, 2005).
Another example of his confused state was the resources he sought. Umar commended influential Egyptian preachers Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi and Amr Khaled as he continued to follow al-Qaradawi’s “Islam Online” website. Both preachers stand apart from the Salafi-Jihadist trend, yet Abdulmutallab found some of the material published in English relating to Salafi-Jihadist thought attractive. A further example appears in his choice of religious direction and how it gradually led him to embrace radical ideas, as reflected in the following post: "Alright, I won’t go into too much details about my fantasy, but basically they are jihad fantasies. I imagine how the great jihad will take place, how the Muslims will win Insh’Allah and rule the whole world, and establish the greatest empire once again!!!" (February 20, 2005).
Yet Umar Farouk returned to a more peaceful ideology when he referred to one of the Prophet Muhammad’s sayings (hadith) on forgiveness:
"When a scholar told me this hadith, I said to myself, why not forgive Bush for invading Muslim lands and killing my Muslim brothers and sisters, all the people who oppress the Muslims and all people who do me wrong, for surely, Allah’s torment is enough for them if they don’t repent sincerely, I don’t need to add more torment on them. Also I might have oppressed so many people in ways I do not perceive, or hurt them, or cause them harm without knowing, so I hope Allah also forgives me for my own short coming…" (March 24, 2005).
Although Umar Farouk used the jihadists’ arguments in criticizing Saudi Arabia for allowing non-Muslim and American forces to enter its lands (May 9, 2005), he remained, before his second visit to Yemen in 2007, a supporter of peaceful political change according to his Forum posts. Commenting on the achievements of the anti-Iraq war demonstrations in London, Abdulmutallab noted:
"The following were achieved; 1. Recruitment into the British army has hit an all-time low – rock bottom. They are working hard and spending a lot more in order to get a few British troops to fight for their cause. 2. The 2.5 million people [in attendance at the demonstrations] made a big statement. They show that the majority of people oppose the war. Had they not attended because they thought the war would still take place anyway, then it would have been an almost established fact that people just don’t care. But they do, so they turned up in their multitudes. 3. The British and the American governments will at least now hesitate, and not hasten to go to war with Syria or Iran" (February 14, 2006).
This view also appeared in his call for a week of solidarity with Guantanamo detainees at his university in January 2007.
It seems that Abdulmutallab was exposed to a variety of different ideas as he tried to connect himself to the “ummah,” though it was at first a virtual and imagined connection. His attraction to al-Qaeda grew as persons sought to recruit him through forum discussions, asking for “private chats” with him.
His attempt to create a physical connection to the ummah was described in this post:
"I usually go to Central Masjid (mosque) London in Regents Park and I think it is possible I have seen an IF [Islam Forum] member. Also maybe I have met an IF member in an Islamic bookstore. There is one particular member that I think I met in a bookstore because of their catch phrases, “Masha Allah,” “Insha Allah” and so on. (I won’t mention the bookshop in case it’s that person). Anyway we might all just be wishful thinking, the chances are high that IF members haven’t seen each other, of course unless it has been prearranged. Maybe if we all had our real pics in our icons, we could spot each other in the masjid. Everyone seems reluctant to do that." (February 17, 2005)
Though naïve, this post shows the degree to which he was willing to connect with fellow Muslims. Shortly afterward, attempts to contact him began through online messages on MSN. This was the beginning of his direct instruction in jihadi ideas and sources through the development of personal contacts.
He was thus led as a non-Arabic speaker to the writings of Anwar al-Awlaki, who appeared to inspire those who were searching for jihadi ideology expressed in the English language. He later met al-Awlaki in Yemen, which Abdulmutallab visited in order to learn Arabic and to become attached to the ummah at the second level. During his second visit to Yemen, Abdulmutallab expressed admiration for the Arab-Islamic environment of the capital city, Sana’a, and for the use of the veil [niqab] by women there (June 23, 2005). It was at this point that he was recruited to al-Qaeda by the organization’s discourse based on the unity of the ummah, an essential concept for Abdulmutallab. This discourse won out over other Islamic political viewpoints due to a more professional and appealing use of the internet by its radical adherents.
1. Spelling and typographical errors within Abdulmutallab’s messages have been corrected for ease of reading.