The family of a Nigerian man who tried to blow up a U.S. passenger jet said on Monday they had lost contact with him while he was studying abroad and had reported his disappearance to security agencies two months ago.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, was charged on Saturday in the United States with trying to blow up Northwest Airlines flight 253 as it approached Detroit from Amsterdam on Christmas Day with almost 300 people on board.
“His father, having become concerned about his disappearance and stoppage of communication while schooling abroad, reported the matter to Nigerian security agencies about two months ago and to some foreign security agencies about a month and a half ago,” the Mutallab family said in a statement.
“The disappearance and cessation of communication which got his mother and father concerned … are completely out of character and a very recent development,” said the family statement, which was sent to Nigerian media.
The media had quoted family members as saying his father had been uncomfortable with his son’s “extreme religious views” and had reported him to the U.S. embassy in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, and to security agencies.
Abdulmutallab began his journey to Detroit in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial centre, where he boarded a KLM flight to Amsterdam before going through transit at Schiphol airport.
The son of a respected former banker, he is from a privileged background in Africa’s most populous country, most of whose estimated 140 million people live on less than $2 a day.
Investigators in the United States are trying to confirm his claims that he has connections to al Qaeda.
CUT FAMILIY TIES
Abdulmutallab was educated at the British School in Lome, Togo, a boarding school mostly for expatriates and students from West Africa, before studying engineering at University College London, where he was enrolled until June 2008.
A family friend said Abdulmutallab had subsequently made two trips to Yemen for short Arabic and Islamic courses. Nigerian media have said he moved to Egypt and then Dubai, where he cut family ties, after leaving London.
Residents in his family’s home town say they believe he was radicalised while studying abroad.
Nigerian Information Minister Dora Akunyili said on Sunday he had been living outside Nigeria for some time and “sneaked” into the country on December 24, the eve of the attack, before leaving again the same day.
Abdulmutallab bought his Lagos-Amsterdam-Detroit ticket on December 16 at the KLM office in Accra, Ghana, according to Harold Demuren, the head of Nigeria’s Civil Aviation Authority.
The United States asked airports and airlines around the world to tighten security after the foiled attack, which raised questions about how Abdulmutallab had been able to get explosive materials on to the plane despite higher security worldwide since the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, in which several aircraft were hijacked.
Demuren said Abdulmutallab went through normal security checks when he began his journey in Lagos and had a multiple-entry U.S. visa issued in London. He also passed through security in transit at Schiphol airport.
The U.S. government created a record of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab last month in the intelligence community’s central repository of information on known and suspected international terrorists, but there was not enough negative data to put him on a “no-fly” list, a U.S. official has said.
Abdulmutallab was refused a visa to enter Britain in May 2009 when he tried to apply for a course at a bogus college, Britain’s Sunday Times newspaper said.