LAGOS, Nigeria – A young Nigerian man who allegedly tried to bring down a trans-Atlantic flight broke off contact from his worried parents only a few months before the attack, apparently trading a world of wealth for the calling of a jihadist.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab abruptly told his family he would abandon the life that took him from a $25,000-a-year private school in Togo to a degree at an illustrious London university. That message pushed his father, a prominent banker from Nigeria's Muslim-dominated north, to contact state security officials and later the U.S. Embassy in hopes of someone bringing home his missing son.
"We provided them with all the information required of us to enable them do this," a family statement read Monday, without elaborating.
Instead, the family said they awoke to news of the attempted Christmas Day attack on the Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines flight carrying 279 passengers and 11 crew members.
His family's wealth made Abdulmutallab an educated Nigerian expatriate, and he continued to travel after allegedly he turned to extremism. The 23-year-old told U.S. officials who arrested him after the failed attempt to bring down the plane that he had sought extremist training in Yemen. Nigerian officials said the man's round-trip plane ticket was bought on Dec. 16 in Accra, Ghana, for $2,831 in cash, presumably by Abdulmutallab himself.
Abdulmutallab had graduated from University College London in 2008 before heading to Dubai and later cutting his ties with his family, leaving loved ones back home struggling to learn how he had allegedly turned to ruthless extremism.
"From very early childhood, Farouk, to the best of parental monitoring, had never shown any attitude, conduct or association that would give concern," the family's statement read.
A university campus in Dubai said Monday that the young man had been attending the school from January through the middle of this year. University of Wollongong in Dubai Vice President Raymi van der Spek told The Associated Press that Abdulmutallab took classes for "about seven months" before leaving the Australian public university. His whereabouts from then until December have not been confirmed. Abdulmutallab's father, Umaru Abdulmutallab, previously said he thought his son traveled to Yemen before the attack.
It's also a mystery what Abdulmutallab did over the eight days — including his birthday on Dec. 22 — after his ticket to Detroit was bought. On Dec. 24, Abdulmutallab re-entered Nigeria for only one day to board a flight in Lagos, local officials said. He walked through airport security carrying only a shoulder bag, with explosives hidden on his body, they said.
Abdulmutallab is being held in a federal prison in Michigan after suffering burns in the botched bombing. U.S. authorities have said he claimed to be carrying out an attack on orders from al-Qaida.
In a statement released to reporters Monday, the family said Abdulmutallab's father reached out to Nigerian security forces about two months ago. The father followed up with officials at the U.S. Embassy in Abuja, Nigeria's capital, a month and a half ago.
"We were hopeful that they would find and return him home," the statement read. "It was while we were waiting for the outcome of their investigation that we arose to the shocking news of that day."
A Nigerian police spokesman declined to comment, while officials with Nigeria's State Security Service could not be reached for comment Monday. A spokesman at the U.S. Embassy in Abuja said he had no information on the father's efforts.
A U.S. official previously told the AP that the embassy shared the father's fears with liaison staffers from agencies like the FBI, then passed the information to the State, Justice and Homeland Security departments. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the investigation.
The family said Abdulmutallab's alleged attack came as a shock. As a boy, he attended the British School of Lome, a high-priced preparatory school in Togo. There, a security guard remembered him Monday as a good soccer player who also played basketball. Another staffer could only offer compliments.
"I knew him and I even used him as a perfect example of a good student," said Rose Amegah, who works in the school's administration department. "Punctual, serious, but keeping to himself most of the times. Farouk was a brilliant student."
The family promised to cooperate with Nigerian and U.S. authorities as investigations continue.
"We, along with the whole world, are thankful to almighty God that there were no lives lost in the incident," the statement read. "May God continue to protect us all, amen."