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Abdulmutallab's teachers, classmates at Yemen school say he became more religious

A Nigerian man, claiming to be linked to al-Qaeda, allegedly tried to set off an incendiary device aboard a trans-Atlantic airplane on Christmas Day as it descended toward Detroit's airport. The White House called it an attempted act of terrorism.

Under the online name Farouk1986, Abdulmutallab wrote in a June 2005 posting that the school was "great." He gushed about Britons and Americans in the capital and about eating at Pizza Hut and KFC.

When he returned this time, he was not seen eating fast food, said Ahmed Hassan, a classmate from Singapore who lived next door to Abdulmutallab in the school's residence building. Every morning, he woke up before dawn to pray. He ate breakfast in his room or alone in the cafeteria, his housemates said. He spoke Arabic well and had improved tremendously since 2005, when he was enrolled in a beginner's class, his instructors said.

Abdulmutallab did not listen to music; the only sound his housemates heard from his room were his recitations of the Koran. One day, the call for prayer floated from a mosque into the classroom. Abdulmutallab stood up and informed the class that he must go and pray in the mosque, and left, Hassan recalled.

In September, during the last 10 days of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, his teachers said, Abdulmutallab performed itikaf, a spiritual retreat during which devout Muslims spend evenings and nights in a mosque, worshiping and reading the Koran.

The few instances when he had conversations with classmates, the discussion inevitably turned to religion. "He believed in the infallibility of the Koran," said Matthew Salmon, a Canadian student.

Abdulmutallab spoke English with a West African clip and frequently mixed his conversations with Koranic terms. He didn't discuss his family or personal matters, Hassan said. Most students thought he was poor; they were surprised to learn recently that his family is wealthy.

His room was spare; when he was inside, he often locked the door. One day, Hassan managed to peek inside, he said. There were no photos of Abdulmutallab's family. The only item on his desk was a laptop. The walls were bare.

By the end of September, Abdulmutallab seemed intent on learning Islamic sharia law. He told Hassan and other classmates that he wanted to attend an Islamic school in Hadhramaut, a southern province where al-Qaeda has deep roots. He told other classmates that he wanted to be an engineer.

One night in late September, Salmon said, he asked Abdulmutallab how long he was planning to stay at the school. He told Salmon that he would stay another month or two, and then return to London, where he attended college.

The next day, Abdulmutallab disappeared.

"He didn't even say goodbye to us," Hassan said.

Questions and anger now swirl around the school. Some classmates wonder whether his decision to return to the school was merely a pretext, a way to gain entry to Yemen to conduct a terrorist act. Others made it a point to show a visiting journalist one of the school's textbooks -- to prove there were no references to jihad or terrorism.

"My roommates and I are very frustrated," Salmon said. "This damages the credibility of the school, of Yemen, and of Islam itself."

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