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Nigeria Launches Investigation into Airline Incident

Human rights activist says radical Islam on the rise in northern Nigeria

Gilbert da Costa

The Nigerian government ordered a probe on Saturday after an attempted attack by a Nigerian man on a U.S. plane as it was preparing to land in Detroit. The suspect has been identified as 23-year-old Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab.  A White House official called the incident "an attempted act of terrorism."   Some researchers say Nigeria has become a hotbed for radical Islamic groups.

A government statement said Abuja had learned with "dismay the news of an attempted terrorist attack on a U.S. airline."

Nigeria is not known as a major outpost for al-Qaida but analysts say the rise of violent Islamic extremism represents a major threat. Over the past few years, a new breed of young Muslim activists, most of them educated and from the upper and middle class, have aggressively embraced a stricter version of Islam, rejecting anything Western and Christian.

A Human Rights Activist in the northern city of Kaduna, Shehu Sani, has done extensive studies on the threat posed by Islamic fundamentalists in northern Nigeria. He told VOA that the attempt by a young Nigerian Muslim to blow up a U.S. plane did not come as a surprise to him. "It is not shocking and it is not surprising because there exists (a) socio-economic and political atmosphere in the northern part of the country that has created such kind of conditions for individuals and groups to engage in this kind of thing [terrorism]," he said.

Nigeria's 150 million people are split almost evenly between Christians and Muslims. Sani says Nigerian authorities should take responsibility for "security lapses" that have created a fertile breeding ground for radical Islamic groups. "The fact has also been that there is a case of negligence and security lapses on the part of the authorities. And this has been the culture for a very long time. And if you have this kind of negligence, the result is usually things like this. You have numerous groups of extremist religious sects that have been receiving support and sponsorship from nations across the world. And no one has any tabs on who are these people, who is funding them and what is (are) the funds meant for," he said.

The suspected would-be bomber is said to be the son of a former Nigerian bank chairman. A Nigerian newspaper, "ThisDay," said the father, Alhaji Umaru Mutallab, recently grew "uncomfortable" with his son's extremist religious views and had reported his activities to the U.S. embassy in Abuja and Nigerian security agencies.

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