The hunt for Kenya’s most wanted terrorist, Abdukadir Mohammed Abdukadir, alias Ikrima, has gone a notch higher with the US government placing a $9 million (Sh779.4 million) bounty on his head alongside two other men.
Ikrima is being sought alongside the two who have been identified as Jafar and Yasin Kilwe. Both are said to be based in Somalia and responsible for terror activities in the East African region.
The bounty was announced on Thursday in a statement from the US State Department. The American government said it was authorising “rewards of up to $3 million (Sh259.95 million) each for information leading to the arrest of Abdukadir Mohammed Abdukadir alias Ikrima, Jafar and Yasin Kilwe”.
Ikrima is believed to have been one of the masterminds of the September 21, 2013 Westgate Mall terrorist attack, with calls made by terrorists from the besieged mall going to contacts in Uganda and to Ikrima in Somalia.
Very little was known about who the Westgate attackers were calling outside the borders of Kenya until the early hours of Saturday October 5, 2013, when teams of Navy Seals from Seal Team 6 arrived on the Somali shoreline under the cover of darkness.
The teams were flanked by additional Seals in three small boats and air support, implying that the man they were after was not an ordinary terrorist but a most wanted man.
Pentagon Press secretary George Little told the media then that the operation targeted Ikrima, a Kenyan living in a fortified seaside compound in the Somali town of Barawe.
Now intelligence officers, security experts, Somalis, friends and former Al-Shabaab members who spoke to The Standard on Saturday have painted a clear portrait of the man being sought by several nations.
Ikrima is the man believed to have planned the Westgate Mall attack.
The US government has described Ikrima as having “medium-length hair and has worn a thick moustache,” with “missing three fingers on his left hand”.
On the morning of the attack in Barawe last October, security sources said the Seals could see Ikrima through the windows of his compound, but could not get to him, as he was protected by dozens of fighters, women and children.
The operation failed to capture him but cemented the small-figured boy who grew up to become a cold-blooded killer as one of America’s most wanted terrorists.
US intelligence have linked Ikrima to Harun Fazul and Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, two Al-Qaeda operatives now deceased, who played key roles in the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and the 2002 attacks against Israel targets in Mombasa.
Eastleigh to Europe
Besides the Westgate attack, Ikrima is said to be a “point person” for several Al-Qaeda-linked organisations, with links stretching from Africa to Europe, Yemen and Pakistan.
“For over six months now, we have been on the trail of Ikrima, from the dusty steets of Eastleigh to Europe in an attempt to speak to the Norwegian intelligence service, the PST.
However, the first glimpse and the most important details on Ikrima emerged from the chaotic streets of Eastleigh.
We met Ikrima’s childhood friends who narrated his story. The names of his friend and fellow Al-Shabaab fighters have been changed to hide their identities.
We first met Abdi, a talkative man who grew up skipping prayers and preferring to play football and smoke marijuana with Ikrima. Abdi says Ikrima’s family left Mombasa when he was about four, six or seven years old. They arrived in Nairobi and rented an apartment in a four-storey building in Eastleigh’s Section 1.
“Ikrima was a talkative, small boy. He was about 5.1 feet tall. He was skinny and had a small long beard that made us nickname him Abdi Kandefu,” Abdi says. “Everyone loved him. He was a bit loud and easily caught the attention of everyone.”
Ikrima failed to qualify for the Government-sponsored university programme. His family enrolled him for computer courses and French classes.
Meanwhile, he had found a new pastime – smoking bhang. Haji, a friend and former Al-Shabaab fighter who left the group to return to Kenya, recalls: “Marijuana was his favourite. He smoked 15-20 sticks of bhang.”
Abdi says they loved to play football on Thursday and Friday afternoon instead of attending madrassa.
The next time Abdi saw Ikrima was in Bakara Market in Somalia.
“A friend told me that Ikrima was now working with the leadership of Al-Shabaab and was one of their high-ranking officials,” he recalls.
Abdi says he came to learn that Ikrima was the leader of the terror gang that kidnapped a French intelligence agent known by his pseudonym Denis Allex, a member of the French secret service, General Directorate for External Security (DGSE), in Mogadishu in late 2012.
“He was the leader of the team because he spoke fluent French,” he recalled.
The Islamist group killed Agent Allex in January in retaliation for a failed French operation to free him. The raid resulted in the death of two French commandos and over a dozen militants.
Abdi says he was told that Ikrima belonged to the hard-core Al-Shabaab group of Amir Godane, the Al-Shabaab leader known for his brutality, assassinations and suicide bombings.
Ikrima, sources reveal, is a senior commander of Al-Shabaab’s “secret service” unit, known as “The Amniyat”, which carries out surveillance and plans attacks.
Haji, who fought alongside Ikrima, left Kenya for Somalia in January 2008 to join Al-Shabaab.
“We had been recruited by a new sheikh who came to our mosque in Eastleigh,” Haji told The Standard on Saturday.
About a month later as he underwent military training in Somalia, he met Ikrima.
“There was a pistol tucked in his trousers near his belly,” he recalls.
Haji was taken aback to see his friend’s transformation from the boy who never liked to pray in the mosque to a fanatic and now a terrorist.
“When I asked him how he changed, he just laughed,” Haji recalls. “To me, he looked like someone who had been brain-washed. He was not afraid of death.”
Ikrima, Haji found out, was a strategist.
“He was the one who made the attack plans but was never involved in the ground fighting,” he recalls.
The 28-year-old Ikrima speaks English, Kiswahili, French, Norwegian and Arabic. Intelligence sources believe he lives in the port of Barawe.
“The town’s security is controlled 24 hours. There are morning and evening security shifts that guard the town and the coastline,” a source within the city told The Standard on Saturday.
Ikrima is shielded not only by indigenous Somali fighters but also by foreign militants who have travelled to Somalia.