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Detroit Terror Suspect: The Nigeria Connection

Who is Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab? Federal authorities say the man suspected of trying to detonate explosives on Northwest Flight 253 as it neared Detroit was a 23-year-old engineering student at University College London. They say he is a Nigerian citizen and he has reportedly said he was on a mission for al-Qaeda and that he had received instructions from Yemen.

While authorities caution that it is too early to conclude anything about the substance of Abdulmutallab's reported claims, Yemen has recently been at the focus of U.S. concerns about the expansion of al-Qaeda; and Nigeria is struggling with Islamist insurgencies.

The Nigerian connection is especially troubling because, if the al-Qaeda link is true, then the huge west African country, which is sharply divided between Muslims and Christians, may indeed have become a new recruiting ground for the cause of Osama bin Laden — a situation western officials have been concerned about for some time. Furthermore, the oil-rich yet impoverished sub-Saharan African sits on a religious fault line, its 150 million people split almost evenly between Muslims in the north and Christians in the south. Bin Laden is widely admired in the arid Muslim north. It has become fashionable for some Muslims to name their sons after him, while his picture adorns T-shirts and posters.

Read the full story here. Also, read TIME's Bobby Ghosh's piece, which looks at whether the Detroit case fits al-Qaeda's pattern.

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