The National Union of Students has warned against allowing a “climate of fear” to develop on UK campuses amid claims that a Nigerian man suspected of attempting to bomb a US passenger jet was radicalised while studying in the UK.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who allegedly tried to blow up an aeroplane over Detroit on Christmas Day, is a former engineering and business student at University College London. He graduated in 2008 and is reported to have been president of UCL’s Islamic Society in 2006-07.
Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Douglas Murray, head of the right-wing think-tank Centre for Social Cohesion, claims that by studying at UCL, Mr Abdulmutallab “could hardly have found a place more conducive to his views”.
He adds: “British universities have been a hub of the global Islamic terror threat for more than a decade.”
Meanwhile, The Express ran an opinion piece by Stephen Pollard, editor of The Jewish Chronicle, claiming that “the role of British universities in breeding and fomenting extremism is one of our country’s most shameful secrets”.
In a statement issued in response to the claims, Wes Streeting, president of the NUS, said it was important not to rush to conclusions before the findings of any investigation were known.
He said: “We remain vigilant and concerned by the threat posed by violent extremism, including the serious – though not widespread – problem we face on some UK campuses.
“We must not allow recent events to generate a climate of fear and intimidation on our campuses, particularly for the overwhelming majority of Muslim students who are appalled by violent extremism.”
On December, UCL’s department of mechanical engineering released a statement saying that it admitted students solely on the basis of their academic abilities “without regard to a person’s political, racial or religious background”.
It continues: “During his time on the course, Mr Abdulmutallab never gave his tutors any cause for concern, and was a well mannered, quietly spoken, polite and able young man. We are deeply shocked by the recent news concerning him.
“The department is currently co-operating with the authorities in their investigations, and as such cannot issue any further information covering Mr Abdulmutallab’s period at UCL.”
Malcolm Grant, president and provost of UCL, issued a statement saying that the university was “deeply saddened” by news of the attempted attack.
“This is a university founded on equality and religious tolerance, and strongly committed today to respect for human rights. We are co-operating fully with the authorities in their further investigations,” the statement says.
* Malcolm Grant will address the claims that UK universities are allowing students to be radicalised in an opinion piece on the Times Higher Education website tomorrow.