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College pal: What happened to the humble AbdulMutallab I knew?

By Paul Cruickshank and Nic Robertson, CNN
  • Qasim Rafiq says his friend was president of a group that condemned terrorist attacks
  • Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab went to college with Rafiq at University College London
  • He says AbdulMutallab raised money for charity, liked soccer, was social and humble
  • Rafiq says AbdulMutallab cut off contact with friends about 13 or 14 months ago
  • Terrorism
  • London

(CNN) -- Qasim Rafiq had trouble reconciling the shocking news surrounding Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab with the college friend he knew: a pious and genuine person who was the president of an organization that condemned terrorist attacks.

AbdulMutallab raised money for charity, he liked soccer, he was social; he was quiet, humble and never came across as dangerous, Rafiq said.

"It's really difficult to see how he could have led a double life at the time, and afterward, it's anyone's guess as to what happened," Rafiq told CNN on Tuesday.

Rafiq does not believe AbdulMutallab became radicalized while at University College London. As a student, the man now accused of trying to blow up a jet was president of the school's Islamic Society from 2006 to 2007 -- a society, Rafiq said, that denounced the July 7, 2005, terrorist bombings in London.

If AbdulMutallab had ever shown signs of support for such attacks, he couldn't have become leader of the group, said Rafiq, who was president of the same society from 2005 to 2006. And from what Rafiq could remember, AbdulMutallab opposed fundamentalist Islamic views that encouraged such violence.

"It came as a complete shock when I heard the other day, when I heard the media reports and his name was coming up," Rafiq said. "It really didn't click, I didn't realize it was him until I actually saw a picture of him being dragged out of the plane."

AbdulMutallab didn't mention to Rafiq that he was against the United State's war in Iraq, but Rafiq admitted the two avoided talking politics. AbdulMutallab also did not mention a trip to Yemen, though a spokesman for the Yemen Embassy in Washington said he was there sometime between 2004 and 2005. He did say he traveled to Damascus, Syria, for a few months to study Arabic, of which he had a conversational grasp, Rafiq said.

The last time Rafiq talked to AbdulMutallab was about 13 or 14 months ago, Rafiq said. AbdulMutallab told him he planned to continue his studies in economics abroad. But then AbdulMutallab cut off contact with him and other friends they had in common, Rafiq said.

For now, Rafiq reminisces about a man that he played soccer with and shared meals with after Friday prayers. He said he does not know the man accused of trying to detonate an explosive while aboard a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam, Netherlands, to Detroit, Michigan, on Christmas Day. He thinks that stranger is someone who was transformed after school, elsewhere.

Rafiq said if he could talk with AbdulMutallab, "I'd ask him firstly, what on Earth he thought he was doing and what he was trying to achieve, because if anything, it set back progress that many Muslims across the world were trying to make in terms of making it clear that Islam has nothing to do with terrorism and so on.

"Secondly, I'd like to ask him how he got to this state, because the Umar I knew is completely different to the Umar Farouk that we saw or have read about in the media reports. So what happened to him since he left the UK?"