ABUJA (Reuters) - A Nigerian man charged with trying to blow up a U.S. airliner told his parents he wanted to study Islamic sharia law in Yemen shortly before cutting off contact with them, the Nigerian government said on Tuesday.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, had been studying for a masters degree in Dubai when he told his parents he was going to Yemen to study Arabic for a few weeks, Nigerian Information Minister Dora Akunyili told reporters in the capital Abuja.
“After a few weeks he now sent a message to the parents that he wanted to stay back and study sharia for seven years and the father said no, you can’t do that,” Akunyili said.
“The father said they were not ready to send him school fees or money for upkeep, that he should go back to Dubai and complete his masters. (But Abdulmutallab) said he was going to get everything free,” she said.
Abdulmutallab has been charged with trying to blow up a Delta Airlines plane as it approached Detroit on a flight from Amsterdam with almost 300 people on board.
A regional wing of al Qaeda said it was behind the failed Christmas Day bombing, which was meant to avenge U.S. attacks on the group in Yemen, according to a web statement.
“(This report) confirms what we have been saying, that the boy did not have backing from here,” Akunyili said.
“The boy was not enlisted in Nigeria, was not trained in Nigeria, was not supported by Nigerians, not even by his parents,” Akunyili said.
Abdulmutallab’s family said in a statement on Monday they had lost contact with their son while he was studying abroad and reported his disappearance to Nigerian security agencies about two months ago and to foreign agencies a few weeks later.
His father has been meeting with Nigerian and U.S. intelligence agencies in Abuja since the attack.
Akunyili said Abdulmutallab continued communicating with his family after going to Yemen but when he saw his parents were vehemently opposed to his remaining there, he cut communication.
“The parents got very worried and it came to a break when he sent a text message that he did not want to communicate with them any more,” Akunyili said.
“They tried everything to go to Yemen and bring him back, and when they failed, they reported him to the security agencies. The reason for that report was to help bring back the child to Nigeria,” she said.
The son of a respected banker, Abdulmutallab is from a privileged background in Africa’s most populous nation, where most of an estimated 140 million people live on under $2 a day.
He was educated at the British School in Lome, Togo, a boarding school mostly for expatriates and students from around West Africa, before studying engineering at University College London (UCL), where he was enrolled until June 2008.
He then moved to Dubai.
He bought his ticket to Detroit — leaving from Nigeria’s commercial hub Lagos and changing planes in Amsterdam — in Accra, Ghana, on December 16, paying the $2,831 price in cash, Nigerian aviation officials have said.
Abdulmutallab’s Internet postings on Facebook and Islamist chatrooms while he was at school in Togo and at university show a lonely youth struggling between extreme Islamic views and liberalism, according to the Washington Post.
Posting under the name Farouk1986, he wrote of Arabic language studies in Yemen and plans to apply to Stanford and other leading U.S. universities as well as feelings of depression and loneliness, the newspaper said.
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Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Giles Elgood