Norwegian suspected of being Kenya mall attacker named
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Published on Oct 17, 2013
The man being investigated by Norwegian police over the attack on Kenya's Westgate shopping centre is Hassan Abdi Dhuhulow, BBC Newsnight has learned.
The 23-year-old Norwegian citizen of Somali origin is suspected of helping to plan and carry out the attack.
BBC Newsnight has spoken to a relative of his in Norway who said he left the town of Larvik for Somalia in 2009.
At least 67 people died in the attack in Nairobi, which the al-Qaeda linked group al-Shabab says it carried out.
Last week Norway's intelligence agency, the PST, said it had sent officers to Kenya to verify reports that a Norwegian citizen had been involved in the assault on the shopping centre, which began on Saturday 21 September and lasted four days.
It is unclear how many militants were involved. Police had initially estimated that there were 10-15 attackers inside the complex, but the CCTV footage which has so far been released by the Kenyan authorities shows just four men.
Hassan Abdi Dhuhulow is believed to be one of those four, the BBC's Newsnight programme has learned from sources in Kenya and Norway.
Phone calls home
Continue reading the main story
image of Frank Gardner
BBC security correspondent
The revelation that at least one of the Nairobi shopping mall attackers has spent time living in Europe may sound shocking but it was perhaps inevitable.
There are around 23,000 Somalis in Norway, making it the largest of the country's refugee communities. The vast majority have no connection with terrorism.
Norwegian investigators estimate that between 20 to 30 ethnic Somalis have left Norway to go and fight in Somalia - that's just one in 1,000.
Counter-terrorism officials do say though that al-Shabab, the Somali insurgent group that carried out the Nairobi attack, appears to have stronger links to Norway than with most other European countries. They suspect there is an established "pipeline" for those wishing to travel to Somalia, transiting through the refugee camp of Dadaab in eastern Kenya.
Ikrimah, the al-Shabab commander whom US Navy commanders narrowly failed to capture in southern Somalia this month, spent years in Norway, trying unsuccessfully to claim political asylum there.
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."
Reporting for Newsnight, Gabriel Gatehouse travelled to the coastal town of Larvik, 120 km (75 miles) south of Oslo, where Dhuhulow's family made their home.
Morten Henriksen, one of the family's former neighbours, has not seen Dhuhulow for years.
"He was pretty extreme, didn't like life in Norway... got into trouble, fights, his father was worried," Mr Henriksen said of Dhuhulow as a teenager.
When shown the CCTV footage of the four Kenya attackers he said that the one dressed in a black shirt or jacket could be Dhuhulow.
'Falling between cultures'
Forensics investigators work next to the collapsed upper car park at the Westgate shopping centre in Nairobi
The deadly assault on the Westgate shopping centre lasted four days
Stig Hansen, an expert on security and political Islam based in Norway, told Newsnight said that he was not surprised to learn that a Norwegian citizen was suspected of taking part in the attack.
He said that an estimated 20-30 Norwegians had gone to Somalia to sign up as fighters for the Islamist militant group al-Shabab.
"The biggest problem is the so-called 'Generation 1.5', those who weren't born in Norway, but came when they were quite young, falling between two cultures," he said.
"[Al-Shabab] need people who are quite ignorant about Somalia. That is in their interest because that will give them a more internationalist agenda. And it might also make them more dangerous when they return back to their home countries," he added.
There have been reports that a Kenyan al-Shabab leader whom US commandos targeted in a raid in Somalia on 5 October, but failed to capture, may have spent time in Norway.
Norway's TV2 reported that Abdukadir Mohamed Abdukadir, also known as Ikrima, had travelled to Norway and applied for asylum in 2004 but left in 2008 before there was a decision on his application.
Norwegian officials have not commented on the claims.
Watch the full report in Newsnight on BBC Two at 22:30 BST on Thursday 17 October and on BBC iPlayer (UK only)
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