The case of Umar Farouq Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian man accused of attempting to set off a bomb on a Detroit-bound plane, has thrown a spotlight on British universities and mosques and what some critics claim is a failure to quell the growth of Islamic radicalism on British campuses.
University College London, where Abdulmutallab studied, rejected the criticism. In an opinion article published today on the Times Higher Education Web site, UCL provost Malcolm Grant said the suggestion that the failed bomber was radicalized during his time at the college was a "spectacular insinuation ... without so much as a shred of evidence in substantiation."
Grant also announced plans for a "full independent review of Mr. Abdulmutallab's time at UCL" and said the college would take "appropriate action" after the review.
Calling for the media to take "a sober and thorough assessment" of the case, he said, "There is a narrow line that we must walk between securing freedom of speech on the one hand and safeguarding against its illegal exercise on the other, such as in the incitement of religious or racial hatred. There is nothing unique in this for universities."
Meanwhile, representatives of student Islamic societies in the U.K. bristled at suggestions that Islamic extremism is rife on U.K. university campuses and were quick to brush off any association with Islamic extremists.
"Islamic societies across the country continue to play a crucial role in engaging Muslim students and building positive cross-campus relations," read a statement by Faisal Hanjra, a spokesman for the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS) in the U.K. "There remains no evidence to suggest that Muslim students are at particular risk of radicalisation or that university campuses are vulnerable to people seeking to recruit to this extreme ideology."
But political commentator Douglas Murray said British universities "have to admit there is a problem."
"University authorities are not even aware of the types of people being invited [by Islamic societies] to speak on campus," Murray, the director of the London-based Centre for Social Cohesion, told ABC News. "They are much too naive about the problem. And now, they bear a huge burden of responsibility."
Details about Abdulmutallab's years in London paint a portrait of a young man who bemoaned his loneliness in Internet postings, but whose closest friends at university apparently knew little about his despair.
They also suggest he may have visited a mosque already under fire for hosting radical Islamic speakers.
And Murray suggests students such as Abdulmutallab, UCL Islamic Society president from 2006 to 2007, might have access to radical speakers without even leaving their universities.
"The striking thing about the Islamic society at UCL and at other universities is that they choose to repeatedly invite speakers who openly say people should be killed ... speakers like the homophobic Abu Usamah, who spoke at UCL at the beginning of this academic year and then was invited there again to speak this month," Murray said.
"And the universities have no particular concern about it," Murray added. "They are more scared of being accused of Islamophobia than protecting their students, both Muslim and non-Muslim students."