Everything You Need to Know About Westgate Attackers

More than a month after heavily armed gunmen stormed the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi on Sept. 21, new details are emerging about the identity of some of the attackers and their backgrounds.

After initially offering contradictory accounts of the siege which lasted for four days, the Kenyan government on Oct. 5 identified four of the five militants who took part in the mall attack in which at least 67 people were killed. But the government provided vague details about the militant’s identities, such as identifying them by their nom de guerre.

Sahan Journal will keep you posted as new details about the gunmen emerge. Updates appear in order, with the most recent update first and the oldest one last.

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Updated, Oct. 22, 10:15 p.m. | Sources affiliated with al-Shabaab, who spoke on condition of anonymity, allegedly identified one of the Westgate attackers as Yahya Ahmed Osman, also known as Arab, Somali journalist Harun Maruf of the VOA Somali Service reported.

A man allegedly identified previously as Omar Nabhan by the Kenyan government appears in closed-circuit television footage from the Westgate mall.

A man allegedly identified previously as Omar Nabhan by the Kenyan government appears in closed-circuit television footage from the Westgate mall.

The 25-year-old Osman, from the Somali town of Bulo Burde Hiran region, was killed in the Westgate attack and al-Shabaab has already informed his family of Osman’s death, the VOA reported.

On Oct. 15, Sahan Journal reported that Osman has “masqueraded as an electronics trader” and frequently travelled between Somalia and Kenya several times over the past year.

An al-Shabaab militant who had trained with Osman told the VOA that Osman graduated from an al-Shabaab training camp in the town of Balad in 2009.

The Kenyan government has previously identified Osman as Omar Nabhan from the Kenyan city of Mombasa.

Osman will become the second gunman that was identified by his real name.

Updated, Oct. 18, 9:35 p.m. | Norway’s TV2 has released photos of Norwegian citizen Hassan Abdi Dhuhulow, one of the suspected Westgate attackers, after the BBC identified his real name. TV2 has also published photos of Ikrima, the alleged mastermind of the Westgate siege, also from Norway.

Hassan Abdi Dhuhulow, a Norwegian citizen who took part in the Westgate attack.

Hassan Abdi Dhuhulow, a Norwegian citizen who allegedly took part in the Westgate attack.

Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdulkadir, a Kenyan also known as Ikrima. was believed to be alleged mastermind of the Westgate assault.

An undated photo of Ikrima.

An undated photo of Ikrima.

Updated, Oct. 18, 1:00 a.m. The BBC has identified the real name of one of the gunmen who carried out the attack as Hassan Abdi Dhuhulow, a 23-year-old Norwegian citizen of Somali origin.

Dhuhulow was born in Somalia, but he and his family moved to Norway as refugees in 1999.

One relative, who spoke to our correspondent on condition of anonymity, said that Dhuhulow left for Somalia in 2009. He made infrequent, increasingly erratic, phone calls to the family, they said, the last one coming in the summer when he said that he was in trouble and wanted to return home.

On being shown the CCTV footage of the Kenya attackers by Newsnight, Dhuhulow’s relative said: “I don’t know what I feel or think… If it is him, he must have been brainwashed.” — BBC

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The rest of this article identifies the names of the gunmen as their nom de guerres. 

Published, Oct. 17, 11:14 p.m. | A day after the Westgate attack, Harun Maruf, a Somali journalist with the Voice of America, revealed the name of one of the attackers as Umeyr. Three days later he named a second attacker, Khattab.

On Oct. 15, Maruf again identified on Twitter a fifth man who may have been involved in the attack.

Arab, who has “masqueraded as an electronics trader,” frequently travelled between Somalia and Kenya several times over the past year, Maruf revealed. He imported electronics, such as computers, from Kenya.

The rest of the attackers have been previously named as Abu Baara al-Sudani, or the Sudanese, Omar Nabhan, Khattab al-Kenye, or the Kenyan, and Umeyr.

Al-Kenye and Nabhan are allegedly Kenyans.

Umeyr told friends and militants he trained with that he had previously lived in Finland. It is not yet known the period he lived there.

A source told Sahan Journal that there may have been a sixth person, a cameraman, who live-recorded the Westgate attack. Nonetheless, it is likely that al-Shabaab may have recorded statements from the the gunmen even before the attack and may release the video at a later time for propaganda purposes.

Maruf tweeted Tuesday that at least three of the “attackers were in Barawe after June 19 this year.”

Barawe, an al-Shabaab-stronghold, was raided by U.S. special forces two weeks after the Westgate attack, targeting Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdulkadir, a Kenyan also known as Ikrima. He is believed to be associated more with al-Qaeda than al-Shabaab.

Some residents in Barawe have seen Umeyr and Khatab al-Kenye in Barawe around June 19, the source has confirmed. Nabhan was also believed to have been in Barawe, too.

Nothing much is known about al-Sudani, who is from Sudan.

Ikrima, who lived in Norway, does not directly report to Ahmed Godane, al-Shabaab’s supreme leader. “I’m told [Ikrima] is way above Godane and gets his orders and funds from outside Somalia,” the source said. “If this is true then al-Qaeda hand can’t be ruled out.”

Ikrima was an apprentice of Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, al-Qaeda’s chief in East Africa and the mastermind of the U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, Maruf reported it on the VOA Somali Service. Mohammed was killed at a security checkpoint in Mogadishu in June, 2011.

Though al-Shabaab has claimed responsibility for the attack, the source said the militants were probably “informed at a later date [about the attack] and were told they will have a stake since the men were sent from Barawe, which has been the hub of foreigners.”

“An attack of this scale would need small [number of] people and top secrecy… therefore, this is the work of Ikrima or the work of ‘five lone wolves,’” the source said.

According to the source, Ikrima is a master of the lone wolves and sleeper cells, individuals who operate outside the command structure of the group and radicalize themselves through watching jihadi videos and learning how to make bombs by downloading manuals from the Internet.

There are allegedly many lone wolves and sleeper cells in Kenya, Djibouti, Somaliland and South Africa, according to our source, and it is likely that Kenya may suffer similar attacks to the Westgate one considering that at least of two of the attackers were Kenyans.

Djibouti is also in danger because of its troop presence in Somalia. Somaliland is vulnerable and such attack would easily target foreign interests, such as kidnapping Westerners.

Al-Shabaab has recently warned Djiboutian President Ismail Omar Guelleh to withdraw his troops from Somalia or else it would carry out attacks in his country. Guelleh, during his Eid al-Adha sermon on Tuesday, responded to al-Shabaab by saying that Djiboutian troops will not be pulled out of Somalia.

The Westgate siege was sophisticated that the Kenyan government has yet to reveal the full details of the attack. The country’s security forces have released contradictory statements during and after the attack. Kenyan officials had said that 10 to 15 gunmen attacked the mall.

“The contradictions and unanswered questions have frayed public confidence in the security forces,” Robyn Dixon, Africa correspondent for The Los Angeles Times, wrote on the website. “The latest information that no more than six men were involved also raises questions on how such a small group was able to hold off Kenyan forces for days.”

Also, there have been rumors spread by American media, citing fake al-Shabaab Twitter account, which claimed that some of the attackers were from America.

“Full details [are] not yet known, but it appears unlikely Somali-Americans were involved,” Maruf tweeted.

Kenyan Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed said two days after the attack that “two or three” Americans and a British women had participated in the assault.

That seems not to be case.

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