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FLASHBACK: How Farouk Abdulmutallab Damaged Nigeria’s Reputation with Botched Christmas day Bombing

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On December 25, 2009, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old Kaduna-born Nigerian man, boarded a plane from Amsterdam in the Netherlands to Detroit, USA. What was supposed to be his last trip ever spiralled into a global security debate with Nigeria under a microscope. Abdulmutallab’s plan was not to visit the USA, but to blow up the airplane and its 289 occupants.

While the plane was about to land, the young man began fondling his underwear in a bid to detonate a bomb wired to his underwear. Fire and smoke caught a passenger’s attention, and this passenger managed to subdue him. The plane landed in Detroit successfully, and security agents took custody of Abdulmutallab. He would later be known as the Nigerian underwear bomber. Had he been successful, it would have been 9/11 all over again for the USA and might have cost Barrack Obama his reelection bid in 2012. The former president said so in his memoir published in 2020. Obama was not the only one whose reputation took a hit. The CIA, America’s famed intelligence agency, suffered some backlash for failing to take action when, days before the incident, Abdulmutallab’s father reported him missing amid evidence of his involvement with Al’Qaeda.

In 2012, Judge Nancy G. Edmunds of a U.S. District Court handed the underwear bomber four life sentences after he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit an act of terrorism transcending national boundaries; attempted murder within the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States; willfully placing a destructive device on an aircraft, which was likely to have endangered the safety of the aircraft; attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction; willfully attempting to destroy and wreck a civil aircraft; and three counts of possession of a destructive device in furtherance of a crime of violence.

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This sentence condemned the culprit to live out the rest of his life in jail, but two years prior, the US had already begun punishing Nigeria. Abdulmutallab was a Nigerian, but his route to Detroit was from the Netherlands, and before arriving in Europe, he was in Ghana. Less than two weeks after his terror attempt, the US put Nigeria on a terror watchlist and began scrutinising Nigerian travellers more thoroughly and embarrassingly. The country shared space on the list with Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Yemen.

In 2018, the Senate threatened action against the US for keeping the country on the list for eight years. Abdulmutallab may have failed on his mission to blow up those passengers, but his actions caused immeasurable damage to Nigeria’s reputation in the international community, and 14 years after, the country is only still recovering – Foundation for Investigative Journalism.


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