Below is an email exchange I had with the Guardian’s Peter Walker (firstname.lastname@example.org) regarding Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s motivations.
I was interested to read your article in today’s Guardian titled ‘Rich and privileged – the gilded life of would-be plane bomber’ (http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/dec/27/gilded-life-of-plane-bomber).
You write "Investigators were trying to establish exactly what provoked" Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab "to try to detonate an explosive device as a Northwest Airlines jet made its final descent into Detriot airport".
However, in the 1,220 word article you fail to address this question. In addition, you include a ‘key questions’ box, with questions starting with ‘where’. ‘how’ and ‘what’, but not ‘why’.
Is this failure to address "why" because there isn’t any information available? No – in yesterday’s Observer, Jamie Doward reported Abdulmutallab was "screaming about Afghanistan" (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/dec/27/abdul-muttalab-flight-253-terrorist-al-qaida).
Could you tell me why you failed to mention this hugely important fact?
Reply from Peter Walker on 28 December 2009:
Thanks for the email, which raises an interesting question. I’ll try to address it, but I should stress first of all that I’m doing so purely from a personal point of view, and not speaking on behalf of the Guardian in any way.
I suppose I’ve got two points in response:
– It’s still not been confirmed what he may or may not have been saying amid a lot of confusion on the plane. You’ll note that the Jamie Doward piece said Abdulmutallab "was said to have been" shouting about Afghanistan. I’d probably rather wait for something more concrete before ascribing a specific motivation to him.
– More importantly, my story wasn’t really trying to explain what particular international situations Abdulmutallab might have opinions about. He has reportedly professed to receiving al-Qaida training in Yemen, and is thus presumably a sympathiser. It could thus perhaps be taken as read that he has pretty strong views about Afghanistan. What seems more interesting is how someone from such a moderate (and affluent) background came to such a militant world view. To me, just saying ‘Afghanistan’ doen’t add that much – plenty of people, both in the UK and elsewhere, have concerns about the UK and Nato presence in that country, but very few go on from this to try and blow up a plane along with nearly 300 people. It’s this latter distinction which seems most relevant to him.
All the best,