Terrorism Case Study

Caless (2012) defines terrorism as ” the threat or use of violence to further a political agenda for change by inducing widespread fear”. However, experts have been debating over a clear definition of terrorism for over 100 years. Although the word was first used over 200 years ago when discussing the Reign of Terror (Whitaker, 2001). Consequently, there have been over 100 definitions offered for terrorism (Laqueur, 1977, cited in Martin, 2013). Alex Schmid’s (2004) research also illustrates the lack of clarity surrounding the definition.
And most experts believe that an impartial and universal recognized definition will never be agreed upon (Ganor, 2002). With the lack of clarity surrounding the definition, a further question arises; who is classed as a terrorist? This is reflected in the well-known phrase “one man’s freedom fighter, is another man’s terrorist. ” (Gerald Seymour, 1975, cited in Ganor, 2002). Overall, it is agreed, that this depends on the subjective viewpoint of the individual (Ganor, 2002; Jackson, 2008; Corte, 2007).
The Just War doctrine is an “ideal and moralistic philosophy” (Martin, 2013). It asks questions such as “what types of force are morally acceptable? ” and “who can morally be defined as an enemy? ” This notion is usually used by ideological and religious extremists, in order to justify their own acts of extreme violence. A prime example of religious extremists is the ‘jihadi Islamic fundamentalists’, the term jihad means a sacred “struggle” but is manifested by some radical Muslim clerics as a holy war and therefore perceived that their war is a “just war” (Martin, 2013).

This paper will endeavor to answer the question; Did University College London (UCL) further radicalize Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab? There have been many debates, theories and investigations surrounding this question, many of which will be analyzed throughout. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (born 22 December 1986) is a Nigerian Islamist who attempted to detonate plastic explosives in his underwear whilst traveling from Amsterdam to Detroit, on Christmas Day 2009, on the Northwest Airlines Flight 253. In January 2005 Abdulmutallab joined an Islamic forum under the pseudonym “Farouk1986” (Now Public, 2009).
He frequently contributed to the forum. His postings normally gave advice to other forum members, although on occasion he expressed more personal views. These included his “jihad fantasies”, describing how “Muslims will win and rule the world” and prays to Allah to “unite us all Muslims and give us victory over those who do not believe”. The majority of his postings illustrate his loneliness and his struggle to contain his “sexual drive”, and he goes on to urge fellow forum users to limit their activities to “Islamically good” and to only “hang around with good Muslims who enjoy studying”.
Throughout his postings in the forum, he maintains that he is memorizing the Quran (Islamic Forum, 2005). These postings illustrate that Abdulmutallab’s views on the Islamic religion, are very similar to Salafism or Olivier Roy’s neo-fundamentalism (see: Social Science Research Council). This is shown with his fixation on personal faith and is also portrayed when he praises Shaykhs Saud as-Shuraim and Abdul Rahman as Sudais (Islamic Forum, 2005). Another radical Muslim he mentions is Abdullah el-Faisal, who is currently in prison in the UK for influencing his supporters to murder Jews, Hindus and Americans (Forest, 2012).
Some of the media (Gardham, 2009) focused on Abdulmutallab’s love for football and this is clearly seen within his postings online. However, by November 15th, 2005, he had turned against it stating “Let’s save our honor and religion and try to stay away from football and do sporting activities that are more Islamically beneficial… running, paintball, archery (or any other sport of the like that teaches [how to] target and aim). ” (Islamic Forum, 2005). There are many different theories as to where Abdulmutallab was further radicalized, the one that will be discussed in this paper is the possibility hat University College London (UCL) and it’s Islamic Society were the perpetrators. During the investigation of the attempted attack of Flight 253, the University College of London (UCL) had held their own investigation of their Islamic Society and although the evidence holds strongly against them, as will be seen throughout this paper, they came to their own conclusion that there was “no evidence to suggest either that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was radicalized while a student at UCL, or that conditions at UCL during that time or subsequently were conducive to the radicalization of students. (UCL, 2010). Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab began university, in September 2005, during a peak of Islamist activity in the UK, there were events organized by Ikhwan (Ikhwan Web, 2005) and Jamaat-e-Islami inspired groups that were being held weekly and their influence over British Islam was steadily increasing (Hitchens, 2010). This year is an important one, as the emergence of the first Islamic militant groups in Bangladesh (Kabir, 2005) was seen and Islam became the official religion of Iraq (Islamopedia Online).
British Islamists were exploiting the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and implicating the Western governments with the “war on Islam and Muslims,” (Hitchens, 2010). According to Islamists, Western Muslims, had a duty to stand up for their religion and fight back using peaceful methods (O’Connor, 2012). The “Stop Police Terror” lecture was given by Awlaki at the East London Mosque in 2003 (YouTube, 2011). The listed supporters of this group could be found on the Stop Political Terror website, and interestingly UCL was among this list (Stop Political Terror, 2003-2005).
The aims of this campaign were to urge Muslims to fight against the “anti-terrorist police” and to alert them of “the deteriorating situation in the UK and the scale of arrests, raids and abuse meted out [against Muslims] by Anti-Terrorist Police. ” The campaign statement also included a clear warning: “Britain’s Muslims, as a community, will refuse to cooperate with the law enforcement authorities if this abuse continues. ” (Stop Political Terror, 2003-2005). During this time, the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS) ran another campaign alongside “Stop Political Terror. , issuing further explicit statements -“previously, it was Muslims themselves under attack, now the agenda [is] to attack Islam, its principles … New laws making it an offense… aim to divide and weaken the Muslim community. ” And “The relative concept of ‘extremism’ is being used to condemn Muslims from very diverse political viewpoints. ” (Hitchens, 2010). The perception of a Western “war on Islam” is one of the key recruitment tools of global jihadist groups like al-Qaeda (Home Office, 2011).
Therefore, it is clear that Abdulmutallab was absorbed in a protesting setting, and this appeared to him to give value and objective, to his already pre-existing neo-fundamentalist attitude and personal discontent (loneliness). It is also apparent from his previous online statements, that he was vulnerable to the indoctrination; “I hope to get over my loneliness when I go to university… where there are usually Islamic groups [and] clubs with good Muslims” (Islamic Forum, 2005).
His obsession with Islam is clearly illustrated with the amount of time he devoted to the group, and after a year of starting university, he was already president of UCL’s Islamic Society (Irvine, 2009). Terrorist groups are also known to use the media to their advantage. As terrorism is “not limited to specific locales or regions” and the media has allowed everybody to witness some form of terror. Knowing these terrorist groups can therefore understand the power of the images and manipulate them to their advantage (Martin, 2013).
Gus Martin (2013) explains the media frenzy surrounding terrorism, and describes the 21st century as being “an era of globalized terrorism”. Another key recruitment tool that jihad groups use is the internet (US Department of Defense, 2007). Sites such as Facebook, (Torok, 2011) and the creation of websites that can be regionalized. Although governments monitor the websites and, if necessary shut them down, another website can be made and the process can start again (McNeal, 2008). It is clear that Abdulmutallab was a fan of internet use, with his frequent postings on the Islamic Forum.
Awlaki could also be a key element in the “jihad internet recruitment” process. The media present him as the “Bin Laden of the internet” (Madhani 2010; CNN, 2011). He was a Muslim lecturer and spiritual leader who had been accused of being a senior al-Qaeda “effective global recruiter” (Telegraph, 2012) and motivator. He is thought to have given a series of video link lectures at the East London Mosque (Gilligan, 2010). They, however, categorically deny this ever took place, and deny that Abdulmutallab even attended the Mosque (East London Mosque, 2010). The University of Westminster Islamic Society are alleged to have ties with Awlaki.
Another Islamic Forum announced him as a guest at the University of Westminster Islamic Society Annual Dinner in 2006 (Ummah Forum, 2006). Along with these connections Awlaki is also suspected to have had “recruited” Abdulmutallab before the attack. According to Fox News, an FBI bulletin states that Awlaki showed Abdulmutallab “how to detonate the bomb” (Catherine Herridge, 2011). Research carried out by the University of Cambridge suggests that “the majority of young British Muslims are opposed to political Islam, and are more likely to join Amnesty International” (Cambridge University, 2008).
This was criticized, when Anthony Glees accused Cambridge of trying to prove that British universities are not “hotbeds of Islamic radicalism” and called the research “flimsy and uncompelling” (Lipsett, 2008). Their research was argued against by the Centre for Social Cohesion (CSC), who stated that “Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was radicalized at University College London”, and goes on to describe British universities as the “breeding grounds of Islamic extremism”(Centre for Social Cohesion, 2010).
They describe themselves as the “Centre [that] has been at the forefront of the debate on what role Universities should play in ensuring that British students do not fall victim to the ideology of violent Islamism. ” (Centre for Social Cohesion, 2010). They went on to completely contradict the Cambridge University report, and suggested within the report that Islamic extremism will “flourish”. This statement was further supported when Abdulmutallab became the fifth president of a UK Islamic society to face terrorist charges (Weiss, 2011).
The vulnerability of Abdulmutallab along with the recruitment tools of jihadist groups illustrates how easily individuals can slip beyond this porous boundary rapidly and very often unnoticed. Since the September 11th attack on the World Trade Center, it has become apparent that Al-Qaeda are focusing on mobilizing Western Muslims to commit “lone-wolf” terror (RUSI, 2012). This evidence is supported by the ICSR (2011) who describes Awlaki’s role as “ideological rather than operational” and explains that the greatest threat he poses is the mobilization of Western Muslims through his sermons and therefore expanding the jihadi movement.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s extremist views are apparent very early on. Although, as his loneliness grew, so did his radical views. It appears that he was trying to fight his urges to act upon these views time after time. Abdulmutallab was quite clearly an “extremist” turned “terrorist”, as it is clearly defined by Martin (2013); “extremists” who violently act out their extremist beliefs are “terrorists”. It is clear that his time at UCL and within the Islamic Society unquestionably played a part in Abdulmutallab’s further radicalization when examining the evidence discussed.
It is also remarkable to see that UCL was among the list of supporters of the Stop Police Terror campaigns, almost condemning themselves of the radicalization. They contradicted themselves when they released their findings that “no evidence to suggest … that conditions at UCL … [are] conducive to the radicalization of students. ” (UCL, 2010). It is noted that Cambridge University’s ‘flimsy’ research could support the UCL’s outcome, but then could this research, with their ‘bad press’, also diminish their findings.
Overall, there are many factors that led to the radicalization of Abdulmutallab, his state of mind, his vulnerability, and the people that he was associated with within the Islamic Society. Therefore, the UCL was not completely at fault, it was also the fundamentalists, that infiltrated the system and took advantage of a vulnerable, young Muslim.

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