Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab "never gave his tutors any cause for concern, and was a well-mannered, quietly spoken, polite and able young man", explained University College London, as it busily seemed to wash its hands of any responsibility for fostering a suicide bomber who attempted to down a plane over Detroit on Christmas Day. While of course, said Provost Malcolm Grant, the authorities would be reflecting very carefully, students were admitted on merit and there could be no vetting "of their political, racial or religious background or beliefs".
What Abdulmutallab's parents must be wondering is what happened to the college's duty of care towards their son. Did no tutor talk to him about his life outside engineering? Did it concern no one that this lonely boy had taken to wearing Islamic dress? Wasn't anyone worried about the radicalism of the "War on Terror Week" Abdulmutallab organised as president? Did anyone know he had asked a "hate-preacher" to address the society? Or did UCL think their job was simply to teach the boy engineering in exchange for his father's large cheques?
As a writer on Irish terrorism, who knew how easily idealistic teenagers could be transformed into ruthless terrorists, I became fascinated by what was happening on a much larger scale in Islamist circles. Years of studying the religion and politics of Islam have given me an insight into young people like Abdulmutallab which his tutors seem to have lacked.