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Kenyan dreams of bringing death to his motherland

Wanted Mohamed Abdukadir alias Ikrima, a senior operative of Al- Shabaab suspected to have organised the attack on Westgate mall. Mr Abdikadir is one of Kenya’s best-kept dirty secrets.

Wanted Mohamed Abdukadir alias Ikrima, a senior operative of Al- Shabaab suspected to have organised the attack on Westgate mall. Mr Abdikadir is one of Kenya’s best-kept dirty secrets.

Mr Abdikadir Mohamed Abdikadir is one of Kenya’s best-kept dirty secrets.

A home-grown jihadist from a well-to-do Kenyan Somali family, the 28-year-old militant is being rated as the most dangerous Al-Shabaab and Al-Qaeda operative, one who has had a hand in nearly every terror attack in North Eastern and Nairobi.

A titillating CNN story claimed that the Central Intelligence Agency trained and provided Mr Abdikadir, who goes by the name Ikrima, with resources to infiltrate Al-Shabaab and Al Qaeda in Yemen, but that he turned against the CIA and used the resources for terrorism.

Local and international security services have thrown an iron blanket over Mr Abdikadir’s early life, family and friends and, after weeks of inquiries, only the briefest of outlines emerges about his life and radicalisation.

Born in 1985 to a Kenyan ethnic Somali middle class family in Mombasa, Mr Abdikadir appears to have had a typical Kenyan upbringing.

But it is impossible to get much information about the militant leader’s early life as most members of his family are now believed to be under a witness protection programme jointy organised by the United States and the Kenyan government.

LADIES’ MAN

Mr Abdikadir’s friends have either gone into hiding, have been warned not to speak to the media or are afraid to acknowledge ever knowing him.

That said, he appears to have had a normal childhood and few would have imagined this typical Kenya youth would one day became a feared Islamist militant sowing terror and mayhem in two continents and the subject of an intense manhunt by Kenya’s NIS and nearly all Western intelligence services.

Like many kids his age, he loved football, fancied stylish designer clothes, loved movies, went out clubbing with friends and once in a while smoked the odd joint or chewed qat, according to multiple sources in the close-knit Somali community in Nairobi.

He particularly frequented Nairobi’s hottest night spots where he had a reputation among his friends as something of a ladies man because of his agility on the dance floor and good looks.

Born to privilege, everyone in his circle assumed he was destined for good things in life — top-notch education and a successful career.

Mr Abdikadir came to Nairobi at the age of seven. His family bought property in Lavington and South C and as a young boy he went to a posh primary school in Kileleshwa, community sources said.

For reasons which the Daily Nation could not establish, he appears to have discontinued his education after completing his KCSE despite obtaining good grades, perhaps because he wanted to attend a university in Europe.

He enrolled at a French language college sometime in 2004 and began to learn French. Attempts by the Daily Nation to get comments from the college were not successful. The college said it was under instructions not to speak about Mr Abdikadir to the media.

Mr Abdikadir left for Europe in 2004 — first to the UK and then to Norway — with a view to getting asylum. Most probably, he travelled to these countries posing as a Somali refugee.

While in Norway, he spent some time at the Ringsaker Refugee Centre, a small facility for processing immigrants, an hours’ drive north of Oslo.

It is believed he may have also spent time with relatives in northern Norway. It is equally plausible he may have come into contact with elements linked to the radical Islamist networks in Europe while in Norway.

Norwegian media sources have written extensively on Mr Abdikadir and his life in Norway. And their portrait seems to indicate he had already been radicalised.

EMBITTERED YOUTH

One acquaintance of Mr Abdikadir, a Congolese by the name Hamisi Mbombe, told Norwegian TV that Mr Abdikadir was paranoid and thought he was being hunted down by spies.

Mr Mbombe also described Mr Abdikadir as someone with extremist and conspiratorial views of the world. “He hated Israelis and the Americans in particular, but generally all Westerners,” Mr Mbombe was quoted as saying.

The Norway connection to the Westgate attack is interesting because one of the attackers whose body was retrieved from the rubble is Hassan Dhuhulow, a Norwegian-Somali.

Who recruited Dhuhulow to join the Westgate plot and when? Is it possible that the planning for the Westgate operation actually started as far back as 2008 when Mr Abdikadir was in Oslo? Did Mr Abdikadir recruit Dhuhulow at that time? We may never know the answers to these questions.

A source at the Norwegian embassy said: “I am sorry, I cannot add anything beyond what is already out there in the public domain.”

Attempts to claim asylum in Norway were turned down, most probably because he was discovered to be a Kenyan ethnic Somali. Mr Abdikadir left Norway in 2008 and spent “a few months” in London before returning to Kenya the same year.

The Norway disappointment appears to have left Mr Abdikadir embittered. He returned to Kenya a disillusioned angry young man.

He turned to faith, grew a beard and wore kanzu, the flowing white Islamic robe worn by men.

He began attending sermons at Pumwani Mosque in Majengo and joined a growing band of radicalised Muslim youths. Mr Abdikadir was particularly drawn to the teachings of a militant American-Yemeni jihadist by the name Anwar al-Awlaqi, who was killed in a US drone strike in 2012.

The Pumwani Mosque regularly translated Awlaqi’s internet sermons and writings into Kiswahili. His fiery anti-Western sentiments and jihadist polemics appealed to the impressionable young man.

His leadership talents were quickly spotted by the radicalisers. Around 2009, he is said to have been put in charge of a clandestine operation to supply Kenya recruits to Al-Shabaab. The outfit was called Al-Hijra and was based in Majengo.

According to Kenyan police and security estimates, some 500 Kenyans have been recruited into Al-Shabaab, the bulk of them drawn from the Al-Hijra network. Mr Abdikadir was very much central to that operation.

DEATH WARRANT

It has been suggested that in reward for his efforts, he got a trip to Somalia to meet with Al-Shabaab supremo Godane and the other leadership sometime in 2009 and early 2010. He may have received some form of combat training, though this if far from certain.

Godane and his colleagues appear to have been impressed by the young jihadist and inducted him into the workings of the inner core and its linkages with Al-Qaeda and the other jihadi groups.

Mr Abdikadir’s exact role within Al-Shabaab is not known for sure, but it is widely assumed that he was put in charge of the Kenyan branch of Al-Shabaab’s dreaded Amniyat outfit, which gathers intelligence, plans terror attacks and assassinates targets.

It is worth remembering the Amniyat chief is a jihadi by the name Mahat “Karate” – someone very well known to the Kenyan security services. Karate’s nationality is disputed, but some experts say he is a Kenyan ethnic Somali. Karate was arrested in Nairobi sometime around 2008 but released “for lack of evidence”.

Experts believe the two – Mr Abdikadir and Karate – worked closely to foment unrest in North Eastern Kenya and masterminded the string of deadly hand grenade and Improvised Explosive Device attacks in Nairobi.

Mr Abdikadir is also believed to have forged very close links with the Al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula (AQAP) and visited Yemen on a number of occasions to meet senior AQAP leaders including Anwar Al-Awlaqi, the radical Imam accused of plotting terror attacks against Americans.

US President Barrack ordered his killing in April 2010 and he was killed in drone in September of the following year.

Mr Abdikadir’s relationship with Godane is believed to be cordial and that explains why he may have been hiding in Godane-controlled areas in southern Somalia.

Security sources say Mr Abdikadir has risen very fast within the ranks and is the only jihadi who easily straddles three terrorist groups in the Horn and the Arab Peninsula – Al-Shabaab, Al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsular and Al-Hijra.

The US conducted a raid on a safe house in Barawe, a tiny coastal village in Somalia controlled by Al-Shabaab, days after the Westgate attack, in which it was believed Mr Abdikadir was hiding. In the event, the raid failed, allegedly after Mr Abdikadir’s guards put up a fierce resistance.

The US interest in the hunt for Mr Abdikadir is intriguing. Recent media reports suggest Mr Abdikadir may have at one point been a CIA informer. This certainly adds another interesting twist to the unfinished biography of this Kenyan jihadi who dreams of bringing death and destruction to his homeland.

BACKGROUND

Five hundred Kenyans recruited into Al-Shabaab

According to Kenyan police and security estimates, some 500 Kenyans have been recruited into Al-Shabaab, the bulk of them drawn from the Al-Hijra network. Mr Abdikadir was very much central to that operation.

It has been suggested that in reward for his efforts, he got a trip to Somalia to meet with Al-Shabaab supremo Godane and the other leadership sometime in 2009 and early 2010. He may have received some form of combat training, though this if far from certain.

Godane and his colleagues appear to have been impressed by the young jihadist and inducted him into the workings of the inner core and its linkages with Al-Qaeda and the other jihadi groups.

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