'No idea why' bomb suspect quit Dubai college

A Nigerian man accused of attempting to blow up a jetliner over the US was enrolled at the University of Wollongong in Dubai.

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DUBAI // A Nigerian man accused of attempting to blow up a jetliner over the United States on Christmas Day had recently been enrolled at the Dubai branch of a prominent Australian university. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, started at the University of Wollongong in Dubai in January but left in July, for unknown reasons, said Mohamed Khalifa, vice president of academics at the university.

"We have no idea why he left," Mr Khalifa told The National yesterday. "He did not complete any degree with us and he is no longer a student with us." A current student at the Wollongong satellite campus said he recalled encountering Mr Abdulmutallab during the previous school year in a game of pick-up basketball on a court at The Lakes in Dubai. "He was a decent basketball player," said Mohammed Marzouqi, 22, from Algeria.

Located in Dubai Knowledge Village, University of Wollongong's satellite campus is a privately funded institution founded in 1993 that offers more than a dozen business-related undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. Mr Khalifa declined to identify Mr Abdulmutallab's course work or activities at the university, citing "student privacy protocol". But news organisations, including The Wall Street Journal, reported that he had been enrolled in a master's course at the university, which instructs approximately 3,500 undergraduate and graduate students from 108 countries.

Mr Abdulmutallab was restrained by passengers and crew on Northwest Airlines Flight 253 after allegedly failing to detonate an incendiary device sewn into his clothes. Flight 253 carried 290 people bound for Detroit, Michigan. The flight originated in Amsterdam. US media reported that Mr Abdulmutallab told the FBI, America's domestic intelligence agency, that he was connected with al Qa'eda and received bomb-making training from an al Qa'eda operative in Yemen. From 2005 to 2008, he had been living on a student visa while studying mechanical engineering at University College London, AFP reported yesterday.

He had been included on a US watch list, containing an estimated 550,000 people, but was later granted a US visa and allowed to fly from Lagos to Amsterdam, and then on to Detroit. In a statement released yesterday, Mr Abdulmutallab's family said it had recently grown concerned after their son, while abroad, began behaving oddly and then severed all communication with them. The statement indicated that his father, a prominent Nigerian banker, subsequently "reported the matter to the Nigerian security agencies about two months ago, and to some foreign security agencies about a month and a half ago, then sought their assistance to find and return him home".

It was unclear where Mr Abdulmutallab had been residing when, in November, his father, Alhaji Umaru Mutallab, was reported to have alerted the American embassy in Abuja, the Nigerian capital, about his son's behaviour. The family's statement described Mr Abdulmutallab's actions as "completely out of character and a very recent development". It added that the family pledged its full co-operation with the investigation.

Students at University of Wollongong in Dubai were dismayed by news of their former classmate's alleged activities. Mr Marzouqi, the student from Algeria, said some students were now afraid of being associated with the suspect in any way. "My friend wants to go America for New Year's, but he has the same name, Farouk, so he's afraid to go now." Mr Marzouqi also worried that the episode could impact his travel to the United States, mainly in the form of tightened immigration barriers.

"This actually makes things harder on us, knowing that he was well-educated," he said. "It's going to make it harder for us to go and study where we want in the world." hnaylor@thenational.ae * With agencies