Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the 23 year old Nigerian responsible for the failed
bombing of Northwest Airlines flight 253 on Christmas Day, was a mechanical
engineering and business finance student at University College London (UCL)
from 2005-08. He was president of the student union’s Islamic Society (ISOC) in
the academic year 2006-07. In 2008 the Security Service’s Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre included UCL in a list of 12 universities that may have a problem with ‘extremism’.
According to government officials, Abulmutallab’s views are believed to have hardened while studying for his degree at UCL. Abdulmutallab is the not the first student at a UK university to become involved in violent Islamism. In recent years there have been several high-profile cases where students or graduates took part in Islamism-inspired terrorist attacks or were convicted for terrorist offences. Centre for Social Cohesion (CSC) analysis
of Islamist terrorism in the last decade shows that at least 30% of individuals
involved in Islamism-inspired terrorist acts in the UK have attended university or
a higher education institute.
A 2008 CSC/YouGov poll, Islam on Campus, highlighted the widespread nature of political Islam on UK campuses, particularly among active ISOC members. The report was widely dismissed by the National Union of Students (NUS), the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS), and the then Higher Education Minister Bill Rammell. In fact, many of those involved in higher education continue to deny that there is anything more than isolated cases of extremism on UK campuses.
In response to the failed plot a spokesman for FOSIS, Faisal Hanjra, said that,
‘There remains no evidence to suggest that Muslim students are at particular risk
of radicalisation or that university campuses are vulnerable to people seeking to
recruit to this extreme ideology.’
Hanjra has also stated:
“Since 7/7, since 2005, up to today, there has been not a single piece of evidence to suggest that universities or Islamic societies are breeding grounds in any way, for radicalisation or extremism, and our stance, the Muslim community’s stance against this has been vindicated to that extent, that there hasn’t been a single case which suggests that a Muslim
student has gone on to a university campus, studied there for three years, and has come out a terrorist.
In reality, Muslim students in the UK are increasingly being exposed to an intolerant, politicised, and in some cases violent, interpretation of their faith with extremist speakers regularly invited to address students on UK campuses.”