FUNTUA, Nigeria — Men in kaftans sit at tables, selling tomatoes and onions in front of small, crowded homes. On the street, young men on motorbikes zip past in broiling heat, searching for people willing to pay for a ride. Buses and trucks rumble through town without stopping.
A few doors away is a large home unlike any other in this rundown neighborhood. It is large with many rooms and painted a pleasant yellow. A concrete wall surrounds a compound with trees and an iron gate at the driveway.
The boyhood home of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab stands out far more than he ever did, people say. They cannot believe that the 23-year-old man accused of trying to blow up a U.S. airliner on Christmas Day with nearly 300 people aboard came from their part of the world.
"The young man's behavior happens to be one out of 10 million Nigerians who might dream of doing this," said Alhaji Sambo, district head of Funtua, who said he has been friends with the family for more than 40 years. "Something definitely went wrong somewhere."
Nigeria, an oil-rich nation on the west coast of Africa, has about 140 million people, making it the most populous country in Africa, according to the United Nations. It is largely poor. The average Nigerian makes $920 a year, according to the latest World Bank figures. Average life expectancy is 47 years.
Nigeria has been riven by violence between Muslims demanding Islamic law and Christians and others who oppose religious courts.
Katsina, the state where Funtua is located, adopted sharia several years ago. People here say it was elsewhere that Abdulmutallab turned.
"Everybody is simply looking at the character of the father and the boy's own demeanor, but it seems that other factors might have combined to push the young man the way he has gone," said Samuel Ebong, a trader in town.
Akilu Imman, a son of the imam of the Central Mosque in Funtua, said he knew Abdulmutallab as "a very nice person, very shy and respects his elders."
Yet Abdulmutallab's own father saw his son had changed, and he warned the U.S. Embassy in Abuja in November that something might happen.
Abdulmutallab's behavior was "completely out of character and a very recent development," Alhaji Umaru Mutallab said in a statement after his son's arrest.
Abdulmutallab, whose father was chairman of the First Bank of Nigeria, was the 11th of 13 children his father had with his two wives', according to Sambo.
Like many children of wealth in Africa, Abdulmutallab was sent abroad for his education. In 2005, he graduated from the British School of Lome in neighboring Togo. Families of many religions from all over Africa send their children there to prepare them for entry into universities such as Oxford, Harvard and the Sorbonne, according to a statement issued by the school.
Nigeria's This Day newspaper said he was given the nickname "Alfa" — a local term for an Islamic scholar — while in Togo, for his preaching to students.
In 2004, he made his first trip to Yemen, where he spent weeks learning to speak Arabic at the Sana'a Institute of Arabic Languages.
In 2005, he arrived in England to attend University College London, one of Britain's top schools. He studied engineering and lived in an affluent part of Westminster.
"Nothing about his conduct gave his tutors any cause for concern," said Malcolm Grant, provost and president of University College London, from which Abdulmutallab graduated in 2008. "He was well-mannered, quietly spoken, polite."
Abdulmutallab started to adopt a more formal religious dress code, including a white robe and skullcap, reported The Times of London.
Abdulmutallab graduated in 2008. Some said a man such as Abdulmutallab should have been living the good life.
"They represent children of the upper classes in Nigerian society, and the majority of them are from Muslim background," said Alaba Yusuf, an Abuja-based public relations consultant. "These boys love their fun."
Abdulmutallab's family belonged to Izala, a Muslim sect that advocates Islamic and Western education for men and women but also Islamic law, according to Paul Lubeck, professor of sociology at the University of California-Santa Cruz and author of a chapter titled "Mapping the Sharia Movement in Northern Nigeria" in the forthcoming book Sharia Politics.
Izala, a Sunni sect, was founded in 1978 by an Islamic scholar influenced by Saudi Arabia's Wahhabis, the sect of Osama bin Laden. Lubeck said its followers reject violent jihad but its adherents were behind riots demanding Islamic law in northern Nigeria in 2000 during which 1,000 people died.
Many young men were radicalized in the years after the riots, said Tajudeen Suleiman, senior assistant editor at Nigeria's Tell magazine. "Farouk seems to fit into the profile of members of Boko Haram … who believe that Western education is anti-Islam," he said.
Boko Haram arose in 2003 and is also known as the Nigerian Taliban. Its members use violence to enforce a harsher form of Islamic law than Izala.
Wherever Abdulmutallab picked up his ideology, his father was "devastated" because "he did not believe his child would turn into something like this," Sambo said.
By the late fall of 2009, Abdulmutallab had been in Yemen for several months, according to Rashad al-Alimi, Yemen's deputy prime minister in charge of defense and security.
"There is no doubt that he met and had contacts with al-Qaeda elements in Shabwa," a mountainous region, before leaving Yemen on Dec. 4, al-Alimi said.
On Dec. 24, Abdulmutallab was briefly in Nigeria, where he spent less than a half-hour in a Lagos airport changing flights from Ghana to Amsterdam, then on to Detroit. He had on him explosives that failed to detonate, the FBI has said. Friday, he pleaded not guilty to six charges, including attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction. Sambo said his father was a "broken man."
"He told me he was wondering what has gone into his son's mind for him to do what he did," Sambo said.
Ebong said the family background — a busy father and so many children traveling the world — had something to do with the young man's drift.
"In such compounds, there is very little love," he said.
Contributing: Oren Dorell in McLean, Va. Kokutse reported from Nigeria; Potts from London and Hunt from Detroit for the Detroit Free Press
*** Young Muslims aspiring to do things like this (terrorism in general) should take into consideration how much Allah has spoken of respect and honour of parents - it is a commandment that goes back to the first Prophets of God. They are also the first people who are hurt deeply by your acts: your family. Is it really worth it? MS ***