An independent review to determine whether Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was radicalised during his time at University College London (UCL) was announced on Monday by President and Provost, Professor Malcolm Grant.
Mr. Abdulmutallab is accused by the FBI of attempting to blow up a US passenger aeroplane on Christmas Day, 2009. He denies the six-count indictment.
The review will examine Mr. Adbulmutallab’s time at UCL, including the three years he spent as President of the Islamic Society. Efforts will also be made to understand whether conditions at UCL contributed to his radicalisation.
The review will be chaired by Dame Fiona Caldicott, principal of Somerville College, Oxford, and pro vice-chancellor of the University of Oxford.
Dame Caldicot stated, “I am pleased to be able to lead the independent inquiry that has been set up to look into events at UCL during the period of study there of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. I hope very much that through chairing this inquiry I can help to produce a report that will have credibility and utility both within UCL and beyond.”
Professor Grant stated, “We are setting up a full independent inquiry into what transpired whilst he was here and his association with the student Islamic Society and their activities.”
Criticisms were levelled at UCL after the attempted attack. It was claimed by London-based terror expert, Peter Neumann, in an interview with the AP, that the university Islamic society is known for being particularly hardline.
However, Professor Grant has made it clear he feels that such criticisms are unfair.
In a statement, he drew attention to the legal obligation British universities are under to guarantee freedom of speech within the law on campus.
Professor Grant stated, “Campuses are and should be safe homes for controversy, argument and debate. This clearly does not include incitement that could lead to terrorism and murder.”
In an interview on Monday, he further clarified his position, commenting, “We must continue to regard students as adults. We must of course ensure that universities are not converted into hotbeds of radicalisation. But this is a long way from reality. There has been so much hyperbole and hysteria whipped up around this.”
He added, “I don’t think radicalisation works by radical preachers coming in and acting like drill sergeants recruiting into a group. We must dispel any misapprehension that universities can substitute for the security services. We are not capable of acting as policemen.”
A spokesperson from Oxford University stated that the University holds a similar position. “Freedom of speech is a fundamental right respected by the University and we also need to ensure that we do not discriminate against either staff or students on the basis of their political or religious views.”
They further commented, “Oxford University takes the security of students at Oxford University extremely seriously. Locally, Oxford city and Oxfordshire county councils are leading on what is known as the Prevent Strategy and the University has met with local councillors and Thames Valley Police to discuss the guidance given. These actions form part of the UK Government’s overall Prevent Strategy, rather than relating to any specific concern about Oxford.”
The other members of the review, which will begin in February, are yet to be announced. The finding of the panel will be published, and UCL has said that it will “act on whatever recommendations it makes.”