Close Friend of 'Underwear Bomber' Saw No Hint of Militancy

A close college friend of the accused "underwear bomber" insists Umar Farouk Abdumutallab did not become an Islamic radical while attending school in London and wasn't an isolated loner, but admits he cannot explain why his friend apparently volunteered to become a human bomb.

"He was a very likable person, honest, well-spoken, and very genuine," Qasim Rafiq told ABC News in London today. "When I heard about what happened I was totally shocked. There was nothing in his personality that raised question marks."

VIDEO: Timeline of Terror: Clues in Bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallabs Past

"If I met him today, I would ask him what was he hoping to achieve?" Rafiq said.

Rafiq is trying along with government officials and counterterrorism experts to find the roots behind Abdulmutallab's attempt to blow up a jetliner filled with Christmas travellers.

Some have pointed to the 23-year-old's Internet writings in which he complains about loneliness, a common trait in many of the Muslim men who have become suicide bombers and terrorists.

"The isolation that they all seem to have -- a common theme -- is very telling," former FBI profiler and ABC News consultant Brad Garrett told "Before they get inspired to do what they do, there's got to be some sort of depression."

VIDEO: Yemen government says al Qaeda has a growing presence in its country.

Writings and online postings said to have been penned by Abdulmutallab in recent years reveal a young, privileged man unsure of how to handle his growing independence and religious views that had already started to take on a more fundamentalist tone from his family.

"Can you be my friend?" he wrote in 2005. "I get lonely sometimes because I have never found a true Muslim friend."

But Rafiq says the Internet writings don't match up to the student he knew at the prestigious University College London from 2005 to 2008. "He did not become radicalized while in London. His actions (the attack) were out of character. We used to talk about football, hold weekly games," Rafiq insisted.

VIDEO: Northwest 253: Obama Blasts Intelligence Failures as Evidence of Missed Signals Mounts

Friend Says Abdulmutallab Was Interested in Economics, Not Terror

"I can't confirm or deny that he was lonely. We were very close," Rafiq said. "Being an international student in London can be difficult...that may have been a factor. I never came across anything to suggest that he was lonely."

Rafiq said his friend also didn't appear to be interested in terrorism.

"The last time we spoke, he said he wanted to do an MBA, further his studies in economics," Rafiq said.

Abdulmutallab joined the school's Islamic Society and succeeded Rafiq as the society's president. During his tenure, the group organized a week long seminar entitled the War on Terror and invited controversial speakers about jihad.

VIDEO: A look at homeland security.

Rafiq said he organized the War on Terror conference and said it is not evidence of his friend's development as a radical.

"We wanted to remove some of the hysteria surrounding the jihad, invited many high profile speakers," Rafiq said. "The essence of university life is debate as long as it doesn't incite violence. Whether the majority agrees or disagrees is irrelevant, we need to encourage discussion or it goes underground."

Despite Rafiq's warm profile of Abdulmutallab, others see parallels with people like Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the alleged Fort Hood shooter accused of firing on a group of soldiers and civilian in November, killing 13.

Hasan had also alluded to growing feelings of isolation and loneliness.

  • 1
  • |
  • 2
  • |
  • 3
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...