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.
It emerged last night that Mr Abdulmutallab featured on the periphery of one counterterrorism intelligence operation in Britain. US intelligence authorities are also looking at conversations between him and at least one al-Qaeda member.
The event he organised took place in January 2007 and included talks on Guantánamo Bay, the alleged torture of prisoners and the War on Terror.
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.
Mr Abdulmutallab left UCL last year. The Times has learnt that his attempt to renew his student visa in May this year was based on an application to study “life coaching” at a non-existent college. That visa refusal may have saved Britain from an attack. His terrorist training took a new turn in August when he moved to Yemen, ostensibly to study Arabic, and was schooled by al-Qaeda there.
Yesterday, the US put on display the underwear he wore on Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on Christmas Day. Explosives had been sewn into them. As the plane approached Detroit the material ignited, shooting 6ft flames up the cabin wall. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which has claimed the attack, said that the device failed because of a “faulty detonator”.
Abu Bakr al-Qirbi, the Yemeni Foreign Minister, appealed for help to train and equip counter-terrorist forces. He said: “Of course there are a number of al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen and some of their leaders. They may actually plan attacks like the one we have just had in Detroit. There are maybe hundreds of them — 200, 300.”
President Obama said that it was “totally unacceptable” that US agencies had not prevented the attack with the information available and demanded preliminary results from two security reviews by tomorrow. He is facing criticism for leaving two key federal security agencies without leaders 11 months into his administration.
Dutch authorities dismissed claims that Mr Abdulmutallab boarded the flight in Amsterdam without a passport. A spokesman for its counter-terrorism office said: “He had a passport and a valid visa for the United States and KLM had clearance on the passenger list to carry him to the US.”