KANO, Nigeria | Middle Eastern schools favored by Nigeria’s wealthy families are pulling young Nigerians toward radical Islam, security and rights experts said Sunday.
The 23-year-old Nigerian charged with trying to blow up a passenger jet over the United States on Christmas Day was a devout Muslim who studied in Dubai and Yemen after living in Britain.
“The recent trend of rich parents sending their children for studies in the Middle East has an unhealthy implication, exposing these children to Islamic extremism,” said northern Nigeria rights activist Shehu Sani.
Whereas most wealthy Nigerians previously sent their children to study in Europe or the United States, many have switched to the Middle East and Asia to save on cost and to protect Islamic values.
“It is a Catch-22 situation,” Mr. Sani said. “While young men who study in the West imbibe a world outlook and dispositions deemed abhorrent by traditional northern Muslim society, those sent to Asia and the Middle East stand the risk of indoctrination with religious extremism.”
Favored destinations for an Islamic education are Dubai, Egypt, Jordan, Malaysia and Indonesia, the activist said.
The attempted bombing suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, is from a well-off family in northern Nigeria, but his relatives said he had broken contact with them weeks ago after announcing that he was studying in Yemen.
“Whatever religious views he held while studying in the U.K., Farouk did not get the crazy idea of bombing a plane until he went to the Middle East for further study,” said Mr. Sani, who is also a neighbor to the family.
Scores of agents for Asian and Middle Eastern educational institutions are based in northern Nigeria.
“Such schools are cheaper and are of high standard compared to those in the West,” said one agent, Mohammed Hassan. “The children are also insulated from the moral perversion they inculcate when they study in Europe or America.”
At the same time, unemployment in Nigeria’s north is also pushing young Muslims toward radical Islam, said Ibrahim Datti Ahmad of the Islamic pressure group, Supreme Council for Sharia in Nigeria.
“Young men from wealthy homes get attracted to extreme religious views out of frustration due to idleness because they can’t secure decent jobs that befit their status after graduating from university,” Mr. Ahmad said.
Former national police commissioner Abubakar Tsav said poverty was another factor.
“There is pervading poverty in Nigeria especially in the north - which is pushing a lot of young impressionable minds to religious extremism,” he said.
Muslim Nigerians have condemned Mr. Abdulmutallab’s alleged actions.