Dad of Alleged Bomber Abdulmutallab Called 'Heroic,' Invited to Congress

Dr. Umaru Abdul Mutallab is believed likely to travel to Washington to testify.

January 11, 2010, 5:29 PM

ABUJA, Nigeria Jan. 11, 2010— -- The Nigerian father of the Christmas day plane bomber has been described as "heroic" by Sen. John Kerry and invited to testify before Congress on how he tried to alert the U.S. that his son had become an Islamic militant.

Dr. Umaru Abdul Mutallab, father of accused bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, will likely travel to Washington and testify, according to multiple sources.

The father is a prominent banker in Nigeria who tried to alert Nigerian and CIA officials that his son had come under the influence of jihadists in Yemen. He told the CIA that he feared his son was going to carry out an attack in Yemen.

Despite the father's warning, Abdulmutallab was not put on a no-fly list and he was allowed to board a plane bound for Detroit. His attempt to detonate a bomb sewn into his underwear fizzled and he succeeded only in setting himself on fire.

"Mr. Abdulmutallab acted in a heroic fashion by informing U.S. authorities of his concerns about his son's whereabouts and activities and by seeking to disrupt what he believed could have been a dangerous situation," the letter from Kerry, D-Mass., said.

"We would like to afford him the opportunity to discuss his experience with his son and to provide his recommendations on the process by which he worked with U.S. authorities," the letter said.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee spokesman Frederick Jones told ABC News, "Congress is wrestling with the specific questions of the Christmas Day bombing plot and the broader questions of how Yemen has become a touchstone for radicalization. Mr. Mutallab, who identified his own son as an extremist and threat to the United States, has an important story to tell and the Committee would like to hear from him."

Dr. Mutallab has been invited for a Jan. 20 hearing, but so far no hearing has been scheduled and the committee hasn't received an acceptance from the father.

Sources in Nigeria told ABC News the father will likely testify as a way to both "set the record straight" and as an opportunity to show Nigeria in a positive light, said one source close to the family.

Many Nigerians say that it's not only Abdulmutallab that has been indicted, but Nigeria itself. The addition of Nigeria to a special terror airport screening list puts it in the company of Islamic hotbeds like Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan and Afghanistan. It has also angered and dismayed government officials, businessmen and ordinary Nigerians.

Every day headlines scream across Nigerian newspapers about the unfairness of what they see as being classified as a nation that harbors terrorists. Protestors at the American Embassy have carried signs that read "Nigerians are the happiest people on earth."

Nigeria Says Abdulmutallab Was Not Radicalized in Their Country

Government officials say being put on the list has strained diplomatic relations between the two allied countries. One former government official complained, "We have cooperated fully with the United States on this investigation. Opened up our operations both overt and covert to them, and this is what we get in return?"

The general message resonating throughout Nigeria: Abdullmutallab was schooled and radicalized in the United Kingdom and trained in Yemen. He stopped living full-time in Nigeria when he was about 10 years old. So why is Nigeria being punished?

Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo says that while it's unfortunate that Nigeria is now on the map for an attempted terrorist act, he understands the U.S. position.

"This is a country that's gone through the horrible events of 9/11. It's a country that is fighting against terrorists in Afghanistan and losing its own men," Obasanjo told ABC News. "If the United States of America reacts somewhat strongly… to anything that tends to undermind its security both internally and externally, it should be understood."

But for businesses seeking investment, the actions of Abdullmutallab and subsequent fall out could not come at a worse time. With a population of more than 144 million people, Nigeria is the most populated country in Africa and is the financial heart of West Africa. Besides its massive oil wealth, the country also boasts a thriving banking sector, media and entertainment industry and agricultural industry as well. At a time when Nigerian businesses are trying to attract more foreign investors and are already fighting an image of corruption and chaos, terrorism is not a welcome addition.

"This will negatively affect us," says Mohammed Mustapha Bintube, the managing director and CEO of Jaiz International PLC, the first Islamic Bank in Nigeria.

Islamic finance, a concept of running a bank based on risk-reward sharing rather than on interest, which is considered un-Islamic, is a relatively new phenomenon in Africa. Bintube says the company which is still getting started has reached out to investors from the Middle East to Wall Street and this latest attention will be a setback.

Christmas Day Bombing Attempt Strains Relations Between U.S. and Nigeria

"A lot of the banks we are courting for investment will be wary and put up barriers. It's bad PR for the country," he said.

Bintube's company has the added issue that the chairman of the bank is Dr. Umaru Abdul Mutallab, the father of the man accused of attempting one of the worst terror attacks on U.S. soil since 9/11.

"Our chairman is a part-time chairman. His shareholding in Jaiz is less than 20 percent," says Bintube. But he also stresses that company is proud of their association with Mutallab. "He's an honorable person with extensive partners both domestically and internationally."

Former President Obasanjo, who calls Mutallab "a complete gentleman," says he's known the Mutallab family for many years and expresses sympathy for the father.

"I know he's a man who wants the best for his children and for his family, but then it is part of the problem of parenting that you think of the best for your children, you're trying to lead them to have the best in life, and somewhere along the line something snaps in their life and they turn out to be something else," he says.

While Obasanjo says he understands why Nigerians are angry at feeling as if they are unfairly being labeled a terrorist state because of one young man's actions, those actions, he says, do have consequences for the entire country.

"What we of course must also know is that when a situation like this happens, innocent people will suffer," he says. "And that is what is now happening to us."

ABC News' Zachary Wolf contributed to this report

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