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Abdulmutallab is More Than Just Al-Qaeda

Author: John Campbell, Ralph Bunche Senior Fellow for Africa Policy Studies
January 5, 2010


WASHINGTON - National security experts and the media have shown intense interest in Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's Al Qaeda links, but not enough in his earlier radicalization.

Abdulmutallab's rage appears to have been shaped by the dissonance between his privileged upbringing and Nigeria's unjust social and economic system as defined by the Islamic religious revival. Like Osama bin Laden, Abdulmutallab's immediate family has benefited from a system that shows little concern for social justice for the poor as preached by the Islamic revival.

Nigeria is a country where many have strong religious beliefs. The North, where Abdulmutallab's home state of Katsina is located, is in the midst of a religious revival that seeks a purified Islam and a "just" society as defined by the Shariah "path." Much of this popular religious ferment is occurring outside of the traditional Muslim establishment of emirs and imams headed by the sultan of Sokoto, but it is widely accessible. If Abdulmutallab was as exceptionally devout as his schoolmates say, it is highly likely that this renewed fervor had a direct impact on his religious outlook and his radicalization.

Islamic religious revival in northern Nigeria takes many forms. In some cases, congregations organize themselves around an imam or a mullah and, in effect, withdraw from the world much like monks in the early Middle Ages. They are peaceful if not pacifist. Other parts of the ferment are militant, even jihadist, and seek to destroy the Nigerian state, killing police when they can.

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