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Norwegian-Somali 'radicalized' before mall attack

  • Article by: JASON STRAZIUSO
  • Associated Press
  • October 18, 2013 - 11:55 AM

NAIROBI, Kenya — Almost one month after gunmen attacked an upscale mall in Kenya, one of them has been identified as a Norwegian-Somali, officials said Friday, as charred body parts taken from a collapsed portion of the shopping center awaited forensics analysis to determine if they were the remains of the assailants.

The suspect was identified as Hassan Abdi Dhuhulow, the first time officials have confirmed having a real name of one of possibly four attackers from the Somali militant group al-Shabab who stormed the mall on Sept. 21. Norwegian tax records show a Hassan Abdi Dhuhulow was born in 1990 and was registered at an address in Larvik, southern Norway, as late as 2009.

A former classmate of Dhuhulow's at Thor Heyerdahl High School — named after the Norwegian adventurer — said she was shocked when she found out he was a suspect in the Nairobi attack.

"The video I saw looks a lot like him. But it's difficult to see," said the former classmate, who didn't want her name to be used because she was uncomfortable being associated with a terror investigation.

"He was a quiet guy," she said. "He was very committed to his religion, but not extreme. He brought a prayer mat to school."

Larvik is a coastal town of about 40,000, tucked in between the woods and the sea, surrounded by agricultural land and close to the mountains.

Community leader Mohamed Hassan said that Dhuhulow, as a boy, would listen to his elders in the mosque and be respectful.

"He was not a trouble maker here in Larvik," Hassan told The Associated Press by phone.

But newly released video from closed-circuit TV security cameras installed at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi show four armed men, cold-bloodedly shooting defenseless civilians. At one point, a gunman shoots a man who was trying to hide behind an elephant statue. The man survives and, bleeding profusely onto the floor, squirms. Another gunmen comes back and finishes him off.

In other scenes, terrified shoppers and employees scramble for safety, some scuttling like crabs, as bullets flash overhead.

One man living in a Scandinavian country, but not Norway, told AP he believes he had met the Norwegian-Somali gunman at a gathering of Somali immigrants in Oslo, Norway's capital, in 2008.

Yussuf, who only gave his first name for fear of reprisals, recalled the man's name as Abdi and said he was associated with "pretty radical" circles in Norway.

"He was mad. He didn't feel at home in Norway," Yussuf saids. Yussuf said he had not had any contact with the man since then but added that several people he knew thought they had recognized him in the closed-circuit TV footage of the mall attack.

"We said that it could be him when we looked at the video," Yussuf said.

Charred pieces of bodies, enough to fill two plastic boxes about a foot wide and across, have been recovered from the part of the Westgate Mall that collapsed as security forces battled the terrorists, officials said Friday. Four AK-47 rifles believed to have been used by the attackers were also recovered from the rubble.

A Kenyan security official said it is possible the remains are of the attackers but it would not be definitively known until tests are carried out. The two boxes were taken to the morgue on Thursday, and on Friday Western forensic examiners arrived there and locked the boxes containing the remains, a morgue said. FBI agents have been investigating since soon after gunmen invaded Westgate Mall in Nairobi on Sept. 21.

Johansen Oduor, the chief Kenyan government pathologist, said authorities would work on the remains on Saturday. He said he didn't know if the remains were those of two bodies or three — as some reports indicated — because the remains were sealed and he hadn't seen them yet.

Reports in some media had said the attackers used machine guns and had stashed the heavy weapons in a shop at the mall. But none of the CCTV footage that has been released shows the gunmen using machine guns. Instead they have AK-47s, which eyewitnesses have said they brought into the mall. Also there has been no sign that the assailants used a shop to prepare for the attack.

Newly released video from closed-circuit TV security cameras installed at the mall shows that four gunmen entered the mall and casually opened fire on shoppers, the beginning of a four-day siege that resulted in a massive fire and the mall's partial collapse.

Four AK-47 rifles and 11 magazines of ammunition — all apparently used by the attackers — were also found in the mall rubble, the security official said. A rocket-propelled grenade, likely from Kenyan security forces, was also recovered. The two officials insisted on anonymity because the information has not been released publicly.

The Somali Islamic militant group al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was in retaliation for Kenya sending troops into Somalia to go after the extremists. The gunmen stormed the mall just after noon on a busy shopping day. The siege, which set off heavy battles with Kenyan security forces, lasted four days and resulted in RPGs being fired inside the mall, a massive fire and the collapse of the mall's main grocery and department store.

Al-Shabab threatened to carry out more attacks unless Kenyan withdraws its forces from Somalia, a demand Kenya's president says will not be met. And there are indications al-Shabab may be attempting to carry out attacks in other regional countries.

Last weekend a blast rocked a home in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in a neighborhood where many Somalis live, and officials said it may have been an accidental detonation of explosives by two Somali militants who planned to attack a soccer game.

Ethiopia's anti-terrorism task force found a gun, grenades, explosives, a detonator and a belt at the home where the explosion took place. The jersey of Ethiopia's national soccer team was found at the site of the explosion, in what was perhaps an indication that the would-be bombers hoped to mingle among soccer fans of a game being played last Sunday, a state TV report said.

Like Kenya, Ethiopia has troops in Somalia. So does another regional power — Uganda — where more than 70 people were killed when al-Shabab detonated bombs in Kampala in 2010 as crowds watched the World Cup soccer final on TV.

The U.S. Embassy in Kampala this week said it continues to assess reports that a "Westgate-style attack may soon occur in Kampala." The embassy said it was sharing information with Ugandan authorities and told U.S. citizens "to exercise vigilance and to avoid public venues that attract large crowds."

The Kenyan security forces have come under heavy criticism over allegations they looted many of the shops inside the mall during the siege. Although government officials have denied looting took place, video seen by AP shows soldiers picking items off shelves in a store that appears to be Nakumatt, and then later walking out with bags stuffed with goods.

© 2014 Star Tribune