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Ghana's Muslims fear increased tensions

Islamic minority is worried their reputation has been ruined by Nigerian who tried to bomb airplane.

Ghana's Muslim minority is worried their reputation has been ruined by the Nigerian who bought his ticket in Ghana before allegedly trying to blow up a plane. Here a Muslim elementary class at the Institute of Islamic Studies in the Nima neighborhood of Accra. (Ken Maguire/GlobalPost)

ACCRA, Ghana — Muslims in Ghana’s capital fear their reputation has been forever ruined by the Nigerian zealot who spent two weeks here before allegedly trying to blow up a U.S.-bound airliner on Dec. 25.

They’re also concerned that investigators, who are questioning leaders in the heavily Muslim slum of Nima, will unearth a local connection to outside terrorist groups.

“Everybody is now at risk because we don’t know whether it is a link and there is a network that is trying to do all this,” said Ibrahim Abdullai, a teacher at an Islamic school in Nima. “We are very worried about our reputation.”

Authorities descended upon Nima after learning Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab stayed in Ghana before he allegedly tried to ignite explosives aboard a Northwest flight carrying 289 passengers to Detroit on Christmas Day.

It’s unclear why the 23-year-old Nigerian chose Ghana as his departure point. He arrived Dec. 9 from Yemen, where he allegedly conspired with Al Qaeda terrorists.

Ghanaian investigators re-tracing Abdulmutallab’s steps here haven’t announced any arrests or links to outside terrorist groups. The FBI is here investigating, as well.

“It would be very surprising but the world is now a global village,” said Abdullai, who teaches science at the Institute of Islamic Studies. “Information is very easy to get now. Because of the internet, everything is there.”

Internet cafes are plentiful in Nima and adjacent Maamobi, another Muslim-dominated slum, and are home to many “sakawa boys,” who run online scams. Next to one cafe is a cultural center sponsored by the Islamic Republic of Iran. Signs above stores include expressions of devotion to Allah.

Abdulmutallab’s privileged background is a stark contrast to life in these neighborhoods of rundown shacks, open sewers and spotty electricity. Muslims from northern Ghana and other parts of West Africa moved here over the years. Foreigners are advised to bring an escort because of the crime. An estimated 15 percent of Ghana’s 23 million people are Muslim.

“He shamed the Muslim community,” said Ahmed Abdullah, who runs a plumbing supplies shop. “In Maamobi and Nima here, we are in poor condition. Our children want to go to good schools. Their parents cannot afford it. So what do we do? Youths are going astray because of lack of education. That’s where we are now.”