Fresh facts emerging on the alleged attempt by 23-year-old Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to blow up a passenger plane in the United States on Christmas day showed that the attempt would have been averted if the Yemeni government had not frustrated the attempts by the suspect’s father, Alhaji Umar Mutallab to visit the country in search of his lost son.
A source close to the security agencies investigating the attempt from the Nigerian end, hinted THISDAY that about three months ago, the former chairman of First Bank of Nigeria Plc, Alhaji Mutallab applied at different times for Yemeni visa but was turned down.
The elder Mutallab, a prominent banker and muslim who is the chairman designate of the yet to be established Jaiz Islamic Bank ordinarily would have no problem obtaining travel permits into any country in the world, including the US, but was refused visa by the Yemeni embassy.
The source said after the attempted bombing suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who was pursuing a post graduate degree in the United Arab Emirates visited Yemen to participate in a short course in Arabic studies with the permission of his parents, he later wrote to them that he would like to embark on another five year study programme in Yemen.
At this point, the elder Mutallab rejected his son’s request and insisted he should return to Dubai or UAE to complete his masters degree programme.
He also threatened that if Farouk did not comply with the instruction, he would stop funding him.
However, Farouk, the source said, told the father that the refusal to provide funds for his programmne would not make him change his plans. He later sent a message to the father that he was severing his links with the family. He said the message would be the last time any member of the family would have any contact with him as they would henceforth not be able to get in touch with him.
Farouk then went ahead to discontinue the use of the telephone numbers he was using from Dubai and the one he used to contact the father when he got to Yemen.
It was the last message Farouk sent to the father which got him worried and led to his desperate moves to visit Yemen in search of his son.
After several attempts to get entry visa to Yemen, the ex-First Bank chief then decided to pursue alternative means of seeking to search for his son and repatriating him back home.
He then contacted the American Embassy in Abuja and the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), the foreign arm of the nation’s intelligence network for help.
Surprisingly, both the embassy and the NIA did not seem to have taken serious action on his report. The lack of concerted effort to act on the report and the refusal of the Yemeni authorities to allow Alhaji Mutallab enter its shores to search for the young man who he suspected had fallen into the hands of people with extreme tendencies in Islam eventually led to the attempt to blow up the North-west Delta Airliner with almost 300 passengers and crew members.
However, the Ghanaian aviation authorities yesterday responded to the information released on Thursday by its Nigerian counterparts that Farouk only spent 27 minutes in Nigreria on his way from Ghana before boarding a KLM airline plane to Amsterdam on Christmas eve.
Reuters yesterday quoted a Ghanaian airport official Yaw Kwakwa, deputy managing director of Ghana Airports, who said Farouk may not have begun his journey from Ghana.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had been thought to have started his journey on December 24, taking a Lagos-Amsterdam flight, but Nigeria said on Thursday he had first flown from Accra to Lagos.
“The fact that he possibly boarded a Virgin Nigeria flight from Accra to Lagos does not mean he began his journey in Ghana as is being claimed by some officials in Nigeria,” said Kwakwa.
Information Minister Dora Akunyili said on Thursday the suspect took a Virgin Nigeria flight from Accra to Lagos before boarding a KLM flight from there to Amsterdam. He began his journey in Ghana and spent less than 30 minutes at Lagos airport, she said.
He changed planes at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport and flew to Detroit. Nigerian and Dutch officials have said he passed through the normal security screenings at Lagos and Schiphol airports.
“We realised (he) probably could have been in Ghana … so we heightened our security checks, but that does not mean he began his plans from Ghana,” Kwakwa said.
Ghana tightened security checks at Accra’s Kotoka International Airport the day after Abdulmutallab’s arrest, Kwakwa said, but no decision had been taken on whether to use body scanners.
“Body scanners are effective tools, but apart from the cost, there are issues such as the infringement of privacy still around its use, so we want to weigh all the options before deciding whether we should buy it or not,” he said.
Abdulmutallab, 23, has been charged with trying to blow up Northwest Airlines flight 253 as it approached Detroit from Amsterdam with almost 300 people on board.
Meanwhile, THISDAY’s continuing background checks on Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab turned up an interesting angle to his personae.
For instance, a neighbour of the Mutallabs, Kabiru Suleiman, who was also a secondary school mate of Farouk at Essence International School, said despite Farouk’s strong views about religion, he admired a certain female school mate, Asmau when they were in JSS One (seventh grade).
He said: “I know he liked her and he spoke about her a lot to me. When he was leaving for British International School in Togo, he told me to take good care of her.”
However, when THISDAY contacted Asmau at her family residence on Ohinoyi Road, Kaduna, although she admitted that Farouk was an old school mate, she said she didn’t know whether or not Farouk liked her because he never told her so.
“Yes, we were classmates in JSS One. We shared the same seat in the class. He never told me he had any feelings for me. We were just classmates and spent only the first term together before he left for the British International School,” she said.