30 December 2009

Nigeria: Abdulmutallab - More Trouble for Nigerians

As Vice President Goodluck Jonathan predicted on Sunday, travelling Nigerians have come up against restrictions in Europe and the United States, sequel to the attempted downing of an aircraft by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who was trained in Yemen by Al-Qaida.

U.S. President Barack Obama has ordered a comprehensive review of visa policy, tightening regulations for Nigerians, especially students and those aged between 20 and 60.

For those travelling through Amsterdam, the government has approved the use of the controversial body scan imaging device, which sees through clothing, to detect explosive devices on any part of the body.

The Netherlands is to introduce body scanners on U.S. flights within weeks.

Dutch Interior Minister, Guusje Ter Horst, said Abdulmutallab did not raise any concerns as he passed through Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport to board the flight.

She enthused that the airport would be able to use body scanners on all flights to the U.S. from the airport in three weeks, and they would be a permanent fixture.

The measures justify the fears of Nigerians that they will now be singled out for special security attention.

But the U.S. State Department assured that the policy is not to punish Nigerians with genuine business in America, or students, but to plug loopholes through which potential terrorists can get in.

"The new policy is evolving, but in line with Obama's directive, those whose visa applications have been turned down will not be reconsidered, and those with questions on their applications will be turned down," officials disclosed.

Security measures newly approved by the White House include a thorough body search of all Nigerian visitors to the U.S., a mandatory seating of all passengers one hour before arrival, a ban on pillows, carrying of bags or electronic devices on laps, and additional deployment of armed marshals on all flights into the country.

Any passenger who does not co-operate with flight personnel will be detained and taken off the plane at the nearest airport.

The new restrictions do not target any nation but are in the overall security interest of America, the White House explained.

However, Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO) cautioned Washington against treating all Nigerians as potential terrorists, based on complaints by citizens in the Diaspora of their "improper treatment" since the attempted blow up of the Detroit-bound flight by Abdulmutallab.

Lagos CLO Chairman, Eneruvie Enakoko, maintained in a statement that most Nigerians are peace-loving, and Abdulmutallab's action should be treated as an isolated case.

"While we once again condemn the aborted terror attack in its entirety, we are also worried by the avalanche of complaints from Nigerians home and abroad over the improper treatment being received these past few days.

"We fear innocent Nigerians are being subjected to humiliation and discrimination for no fault of theirs; Nigerians are being stigmatised unduly," Enakoko said.

He called on the international community, in particular the U.S., to exercise patience and control over the incident, and not give the blanket name of terrorist to Nigerians or regard Nigeria as a haven for terrorists.

"The average Nigerian born and raised up in this country is not willing to die, even in the midst of excruciating poverty, and unbearable hardship, much less taking to such extremism."

Enakoko reminded the international community, especially the U.S., that the suspect's father had lodged a complaint about his unusual behaviour with the U.S. embassy in Abuja before the botched attack.

He urged Aso Rock to tackle the menace of poverty, insecurity, and injustice in the country.

And as part of measures to improve security, Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) Director General, Harold Demuren, disclosed on Wednesday that 3-D, full body scanners are to be installed in airports next year.

In Yemen, security forces stormed an al-Qaida hide-out in a principal militant stronghold in the country's west, setting off clashes, officials said, as a security chief vowed to fight the group's powerful local branch until it is eliminated.

"The (Interior) Ministry will continue tracking down al-Qaida terrorists and will continue its strikes against the group until it is totally eliminated," pledged Deputy Interior Minister, Brigadier General Saleh al-Zawari.

Abdulmutallab spent two periods in Yemen, from 2004 to 2005 and from August to December of this year, just before the attempted attack.

Details emerged on Wednesday that while in Yemen, he led a devout Islamic life, shunning television and music and avoiding women, said students and staff at an institute where he studied Arabic during both periods.

He showed little interest in study during his brief time at the San'a Institute for the Arabic Language this year, which coincided with Ramadan, the holy Muslim month of fasting that began in late August.

"When I asked him why he wasn't studying, he would tell me he wanted to devote his time for worship during Ramadan," Ahmed Hassan, a 28-year-old Arabic language student from Singapore, told The Associated Press (AP).

Hassan said he was stunned when he heard reports that Abdulmutallab, 23, told U.S. officials after his arrest that he received training and instructions from al-Qaida operatives in Yemen.

He said he never suspected him of belonging to the terrorist network.

Staff and students at the institute narrated that Abdulmutallab spent at most one month at the school. That has raised questions about what he did during the rest of his stay, which continued into December.

Hassan said Abdulmutallab would start his day by going to the mosque for dawn prayers and then would spend hours in his room reading the Quran.

Ahmed Mohammed, one of the teachers at the institute, recalled that Abdulmutallab spent the last 10 days of Ramadan sequestered in a mosque.

However, U.S. intelligence was reportedly aware that "a Nigerian" in Yemen was being prepared for a terrorist attack, weeks before an attempted bombing.

Obama noted that a systemic failure allowed Abdulmutallab to fly to the U.S. despite family members warning officials in November that he had extremist views.

He said he wants to know why the warning weeks ago from Abdulmutallab's father did not lead to the accused being placed on a no-fly list.

"We need to learn from this episode and act quickly to fix flaws in the system."

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