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In online posts apparently by Detroit suspect, religious ideals collide

By Philip Rucker and Julie Tate
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 29, 2009; A01

The 23-year-old Nigerian man accused of the attempted Christmas Day bombing of an American airliner apparently turned to the Internet for counseling and companionship, writing in an online forum that he was "lonely" and had "never found a true Muslim friend."

"I have no one to speak too [sic]," read a posting from January 2005, when Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was attending boarding school. "No one to consult, no one to support me and I feel depressed and lonely. I do not know what to do. And then I think this loneliness leads me to other problems."

The Washington Post reviewed 300 online postings under the name "farouk1986" (a combination of Abdulmutallab's middle name and birth year). The postings mused openly about love and marriage, his college ambitions and angst over standardized testing, as well as his inner struggle as a devout Muslim between liberalism and extremism. In often-intimate writings, posted between 2005 and 2007, he sought friends online, through Facebook and in Islamic chat rooms: "My name is Umar but you can call me Farouk." He often invited readers to "have your say" and once wrote, "May Allah reward you for reading and reward you more for helping."

A U.S. government official said late Monday that federal intelligence officials were reviewing the online postings but had not independently confirmed their authenticity.

Many of the biographical details in the writings, however, match up with facts already known about Abdulmutallab.

Farouk1986 wrote of being born in 1986 and having attended an elite British boarding school in Togo, where many of his classmates were British expatriates and students from around West Africa.

The postings also reference visits to London, the United States and other countries, including Egypt and Yemen. Department of Homeland Security officials said Monday that Abdulmutallab traveled to the United States in July 2004 to Washington and in August 2008 to Houston.

Farouk1986 wrote about considering applications to U.S. and British universities, including University College London, where officials said Abdulmutallab enrolled in a mechanical engineering course from September 2005 to June 2008. He also wrote about his family's wealth; Abdulmutallab's father, Alhaji Umaru Mutallab, a frequent visitor to the United States, retired this year as chairman of First Bank of Nigeria and still sits on the boards of several prominent Nigerian firms.

All of the postings are on the Islamic Forum Web site (http://www.gawaher.com), which uses a commercially available chat-forum software called IP.Board that automatically assigns dates to users' posts as they are created. Many of Farouk1986's postings drew comments from other forum members on the day they were written.

Taken together, the writings demonstrate an acute awareness of Western customs and a worldliness befitting Abdulmutallab's privileged upbringing as a wealthy Nigerian banker's son.

Embracing privilege

In a June 2005 posting, Farouk1986 wrote that he was in Yemen for a three-month Arabic course, saying that "it is just great." He described how many British people and Americans were in Sanaa, gushing about the capital's shopping and global cuisine (including, he noted, Pizza Hut and KFC).

The Yemeni Embassy said Monday that Abdulmutallab was in Yemen between August and December of this year to study Arabic at a language institute. He earlier spent time at the same institute, the embassy said.

Farouk1986 wrote often of the college admissions process, once describing his plans to study engineering at Stanford University, the University of California at Berkeley or the California Institute of Technology. But he also wrote of his disappointment in scoring a 1200 on the SAT. "I tried the SAT," he wrote in March 2005. "It was a disaster!!!"

On Facebook, Abdulmutallab's profile features a photo of him smiling, standing alongside two friends and wearing a sharp-looking pink polo shirt and sunglasses. He has 287 friends.

Fabrizio Cavallo Marincola, 22, who studied with Abdulmutallab at University College London, said Abdulmutallab graduated in May 2008 and showed no signs of radicalization or of links to al-Qaeda. "He always did the bare minimum of work," Marincola said of his classmate, who he said was nicknamed "Biggie."

"When we were studying, he always would go off to pray," Marincola continued. "He was pretty quiet and didn't socialize much or have a girlfriend that I knew of."

As a student at the British boarding school in Togo, Farouk1986 wrote that he was lonely because there were few other Muslims. "I'm active, I socialise with everybody around me, no conflicts, I laugh and joke but not excessively," he wrote in one posting seeking counseling from online peers. "I will describe myself as very ambitious and determined, especially in the deen. I strive to live my daily live [sic] according to the quran and sunnah to the best of my ability. I do almost everything, sports, TV, books . . . (of course trying not to cross the limits in the deen)." The deen is a religious way of life.

Ideals colliding

In his January 2005 posting about his loneliness, Farouk1986 wrote about the tension between his desires and his religious duty of "lowering the gaze" in the presence of women. "The Prophet (S) advised young men to fast if they can't get married but it has not been helping me much and I seriously don't want to wait for years before I get married," he wrote.

At 18, he added, he had not started searching for prospective partners because of social norms such as having "a degree, a job, a house, etc. before getting married." But, he said, "my parents I know could help me financially should I get married, even though I think they are also not going to be in favour of early marriage."

He also wrote of his "dilemma between liberalism and extremism" as a Muslim. "The Prophet (S) said religion is easy and anyone who tries to overburden themselves will find it hard and will not be able to continue," he wrote in 2005. "So anytime I relax, I deviate sometimes and then when I strive hard, I get tired of what I am doing i.e. memorising the quran, etc. How should one put the balance right?"

In December 2005, Farouk1986 wrote that his parents were visiting him in London and that he was torn about whether he could eat meat with them. "I am of the view meat not slaughtered by Muslims . . . is haram [forbidden] for consumption unless necessary," he wrote. "My parents are of the view as foreigners, we are allowed to . . . eat any meat. It occured [sic] to me I should not be eating with my parents as they use meat I consider haram. But I fear this might cause division and other complicated family problems."

He pleaded: "Please respond as quickly as possible as my tactic has been to eat outside and not at home till I get an answer."

Abdulmutallab, the youngest of 16 children and the son of the second of his father's two wives, was raised at the family home in Kaduna, a city in Nigeria's Muslim-dominated north. At boarding school, Farouk was easygoing and studious, earning the sobriquet "Alfa," a local term for Muslim clerics, because of his penchant for preaching Islam to colleagues, according to family members.

"Farouk was a devoted Muslim who took his religion seriously and was committed to his studies," said an uncle. "He was such a brilliant boy and nobody in the family had the slightest thought he could do something as insane as this."

Although Farouk hardly ever stayed in Nigeria and would visit only for holidays, family members and neighbors on Ahman Pategi Street in the rich Unguwar Sarki neighborhood in Kaduna also said he was easygoing and passionate about Islam. "He was of course a very religious, polite and studious fellow," said a cousin, "but it was unthinkable that he would do anything close to attempting to bomb a plane."

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