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Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab, 23, charged with attempting to blow up a Northwest Airlines plane Christmas Day as it approached Detroit on a flight from Amsterdam with almost 300 people on board, was refused a student visa in May of this past year, the Home Secretary, Alan Johnson confirmed to the BBC this morning.
The school he said he wanted to study at was considered a bogus institution by the Home Office. There are many schools in Britain, mainly in London, that offer short term courses in English or business studies. These schools until recently have been one way for illegal immigrants to enter the country.
Young people would come in on a short term student visa to study at one of these institutions and then disappear off the grid. Once you have been denied a visa for one of these schools you automatically go on a watch list, Johnson confirmed.
"Once you're on it, you can't come into this country," he said, adding that people on the list are allowed to transit at a British airport and go one to a third country.
Once a person is on the list, his or her name is passed along to American authorities. Johnson said his assumption was this had been done in Mutallab's case.
What is interesting here is that Mutallab had previously held a legitimate student visa. He studied business finance for three years at University College London, one of Britain's top institutions of higher education. The fact that he wanted to come back to do a degree at a bogus college degree may have raised questions in the authorities' minds.
The local investigation is focused on whether he was radicalized while he was going to University College.
A report in The Independent newspaper claimed that as a student he had worshiped regularly at the East London Mosque in the Whitechapel neighborhood. The Mosque has hosted radical preachers and allows groups with extremist views to hold meetings on its premises.
But generally, British colleges seem to be hotbed of radicalization for young Muslims. A poll conducted a year ago by YouGov showed Muslim students to hold significantly different attitudes about a wide range of issues than their fellow undergraduates. For example up to 32 percent of Muslim students in Britain say it can be justified to kill in the name of religion 2 percent of non-muslims took the same attitude.