Student charged with trying to blow up plane 'not radicalised at UCL'

Inquiry finds no evidence Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab adopted extremist views while at University College London

A former student at a London university charged with attempting to blow up a plane over the US on Christmas Day was unlikely to have been radicalised on campus, an independent inquiry ruled yesterday.

The inquiry found no evidence that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab adopted extremist views while studying engineering at University College London. It also said there was no evidence that conditions at the university were "conducive to the radicalisation of students".

Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian, is in US custody facing charges including attempted murder and attempting to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight above Detroit on 25 December last year.

He was president of UCL's Islamic Society in his second year and graduated in 2008.

The inquiry, set up by UCL's governing body but carried out by an independent panel, found that "no student support system" would have drawn attention to Abdulmutallab as a potential terrorist. "The evidence is that he was not lonely or isolated while at UCL and that he became well integrated into the student body."

He is the third student or former student of UCL to be charged with offences of this kind, the report noted.It highlighted two cases for concern over speakers invited to campus in the last academic year, one by the Islamic Society and the other by another faith-based student society.

In the case of the Islamic Society's speaker, concerns were raised about homophobia and the event was cancelled.

The university's student union (UCLU) currently reviews speakers by checking the first page of results on a Google search. The report said: "[This] is not necessarily an extensive or accurate evidence base for determining whether there may be cause for concern in inviting the proposed speaker."The inquiry report cleared the Islamic Society of any involvement in radicalisation. It said: "We found no evidence of an extremist subculture operating within the UCLU ISoc either during the year of Abdulmutallab's presidency or in the preceding year, when he was a first year student, or subsequently."

The report expressed concern that the student union did not affiliate societies based in individual departments of the university.

It added: "Moreover we understand that UCL publishes no guidance to departments on the operation of such societies and that there is no central record of them."

Arrangements for pastoral care vary greatly across departments, and mechanical engineering, where Abdulmutallab was based, has a "hands-off" approach, the report found.

"Although we do not think these factors made a material difference [in Abdulmutallab's case] we were concerned that staff and students might not be confident of how to follow up concerns about a student they perceived to be at risk."

UCL was the first English university to admit members of any race or religion, and its secular tradition remains an important part of its character, the inquiry noted.

"The view was expressed to us by several of those we interviewed, including current academic staff, that UCL's traditions had since come to be interpreted by some members of its community as 'anti-religious' rather than 'secular' and that this is a negative distortion of UCL's traditions," the report says.

The panel also investigated the release of students' data to police. UCLU initially refused a request for data from Scotland Yard's counterterrorism unit on 26 December last year, on the grounds that it was protected.

The CTU made contact again, making reference to the Terrorism Act 2006. Although this new request did not legally oblige the student body to release the data, the report said, it gave police the names, email addresses and year of membership for members of two Islam-based societies. The data of 365 students was handed over. Information relating to one society was subsequently destroyed as a "goodwill gesture", according to police.

Sir Stephen Wall, chair of UCL Council, the university's governing body, said: "The panel has identified a number of UCL processes which we will be reviewing as a result of the report. We note the panel's recommendation that the UCL union's system for monitoring invitations to visiting speakers be reviewed, and we will be working in consultation with our student body to ensure that this happens, while maintaining our legal obligation to guarantee freedom of speech on campus within the law."

A separate and wider inquiry is taking place into how universities can prevent extremism while safeguarding free speech.


Jeevan Vasagar, Education editor

The GuardianTramp

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