The Christmas Day airline bomb plot suspect organised a conference under the banner “War on Terror Week” as he immersed himself in radical politics while a student in London, The Times has learnt.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, a former president of the Islamic Society at University College London, advertised speakers including political figures, human rights lawyers and former Guantánamo detainees.
One lecture, Jihad v Terrorism, was billed as “a lecture on the Islamic position with respect to jihad”.
Security sources are concerned that the picture emerging of his undergraduate years suggests that he was recruited by al-Qaeda in London. Security sources said that Islamist radicalisation was rife on university campuses, especially in London, and that college authorities had “a patchy record in facing up to the problem”. Previous anti-terrorist inquiries have uncovered evidence of extremists using political meetings and religious study circles to identify potential recruits.
He is the fourth president of a London student Islamic society to face terrorist charges in three years. One is facing a retrial on charges that he was involved in the 2006 liquid bomb plot to blow up airliners. Two others have been convicted of terrorist offences since 2007.
The trouble with the college authorities is that they are used to the presidents of University societies preaching revolutionary action but at the very most chucking a few bottles at the police and facing a £100 fine penalty. They have in their mind the likes of eg Tariq Ali (President of the Oxford Union) Christopher Hitchens (Secretary of the Oxford University Labour Club) or David Aaronovitch (President of the National University Students) who may have preached revolution but settled into solid writing and activist careers.
“Hitchens was and still is a strong admirer of Cuban revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara, commenting that "[Che's] death meant a lot to me and countless like me at the time, he was a role model, albeit an impossible one for us bourgeois romantics insofar as he went and did what revolutionaries were meant to do — fought and died for his beliefs."
I can imagine the college authorities recalling their own revolutionary pasts with indulgence as an ideological rite of passage. If Slavoj Zizek eg turns up and calls for a Leninist seizing of power or the necessity of Jacobin terror at the invitation of the Seize Power Now! Party, they know it’s basic feel good stuff, the equivalent of holding up (formerly) a lit cigarette lighter or (now) a mobile phone to an anthem sung from the stadium stage. They don’t really expect it to materialise in any form other than the odd sit-in demanding boycotts of Israel. But if Mr Jihad Al-Jihad turns up preaching blowing yourself and others up for the sake of the Caliphate, some at least of his hearers will become very active activists, effervescently active, exploding all over the place.
Sarah in the comments box draws my attention to this riposte from Malcolm Grant, president and provost of University College London.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was arrested on Christmas Day for the attempted bombing of an aircraft on a flight to Detroit from Amsterdam. Had he succeeded in his mission, it would have been an act of terrorism causing mass murder on an appalling scale.
What induced this behaviour remains a mystery. He has not emerged from a background of deprivation and poverty. He came from one of Nigeria’s wealthiest families. He was privately educated, and to a high level. He gained admission to University College London, where he studied mechanical engineering with business finance between 2005 and 2008, and was president of the UCL student Islamic Society in 2006-07.
Studying engineering and being from a wealthy background are common enough for murderous islamists including Osama Bin Laden. I haven’t got the stats, but a fair few of the more spectacular islamist killers have come from an engineering background. Graduates in politics, history or the humanities generally are less inclined to murder of self and others for some vague religious/political ends. Nor are they from the wretched of the earth, or even much concerned with the wretched of the earth. Mr Grant still makes the old assumptions about activists.
The piece, plus the comments below are worth reading and I do feel for Mr Grant. He doesn’t want to have it part of his duties to monitor university societies and the speakers they invite. It’s not what he’s used to and he makes the liberal case. A better outcome would be if other students protested loudly against any theocracy-loving, misogynistic and anti-Semitic speaker being invited to address any society. However, I have no idea what exercises students these days.