The young, Nigerian man being held in prison after he allegedly tried to blow himself up on an airplane Christmas Day is a study in contradictions, some reports say.
But, according to one expert, 23-year-old Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is a near perfect match to the profile of a modern terrorist.
Abdulmutallab, who only set his lap ablaze after he failed to properly detonate explosive powder hidden in his underwear on a flight to Detroit Metro Airport, awaits criminal proceedings. Meanwhile, law enforcement officials, passengers who escaped his death plot on Flight 253, and the general public learn about Abdulmutallab’s upbringing and personal background. Among the details:
• Abdulmutallab received some of the best education available, including enrollment at the British International School in West Africa and the University College, London.
• The suspect’s father Alhaji Umaru Mutallab, who recently alerted government officials of his concern that his son held dangerous religious views, was once chairman of First Bank of Nigeria.
• The family of the suspect’s mother is originally from Yemen.
• Abdulmutallab was known in school by the nickname, “The Pope,” because of his priestly demeanor.
• A soccer fan, the suspect also is reportedly an avid reader.
• Abdulmutallab reportedly expressed concerns that his religious views would keep him from attending a high school prom.
A 2004 study, “Understanding Terrorist Networks,” suggests that the suspect’s privileged background is consistent with what agents often sacrifice in terror plots. Prepared by forensic psychiatrist and ex-CIA case officer Marc Sageman, the report found that 90 percent of would-be terrorists come from stable homes, three-quarters are from middle- to upper-economic-class families and that two-thirds have some college education. The average age for committing their lives to violence in the name of religion was 26 at the time of Sageman’s research, and most terrorists were married with children.
According to intelligence officials and scholars of radical Islam, the attraction to radical forms of religion and politics for affluent, educated, young Muslims grows out of a sense of alienation. They are usually idealistic "outsiders" who come of age heavily exposed to Western education and culture, and when they become adults, reject those values as they establish their own identities.
Many of them are also critical of their parents, who they feel are too politically passive and do not stand up for their religion against the influences of Christianity or Western culture, foes of Islam in their perception.
Contrary to the stereotype that terrorists are “crazy,” the study showed that only one in 100 demonstrated psychological problems. “They came from moderately religious, caring, middle-class families,” writes Sageman. “They spoke three, four, five, six languages.”