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Unmasking Westgate: How terrorist attack was executed

Capture61A treasure trove of hours and hours of never before seen CCTV footage and interviews with impeccable security sources have revealed for the first time new details on how the Westgate attack unfolded and the identity of the  four men caught on camera killing shoppers. Investigative writer Nyambega Gisesa has spent hours analysing the footage and talking to sources privy to information on the Westgate terror attack. And for the first time, The Standard on Saturday provides a chronological order to how the attack was executed and how Kenya security forces responded to the terrorist attack that claimed close to 70 lives.

 A silver Mitsubishi sedan number plate KAS 575X inched casually towards the entrance to Westgate Shopping Mall using Peponi Road.

The day:  Saturday September 21.

Time: 12:26pm

Weather: clear sky, occasional intermittent clouds

Inside the vehicle were four men, Abu Baraa Al Sudani, Khatab Alakene aka Khadhab, Umir Al Mogadish and Omar Abdulrahman Nabhan.

Al Sudani: He is a Sudanese national  and the presumed attackers leader. Al Sudani  is a man with a cheeky smile who killed as he beamed a wry smile. He is a man of mischievous character who loved to flaunt the one finger obscene gesture salute while dressed in black.

Khadhab:  who was once illegally a victim of rendition by the CIA to Somalia from a bookshop where he worked in Nairobi’s Eastleigh Sixth Street. Extraordinary rendition or irregular rendition is the apprehension and extrajudicial transfer of a person from one country to another against his will.

During the United States war on terror under the Bush administration, the term became infamous with US practices of abducting and transferring terrorism suspects to countries known to employ torture, for the purpose of interrogation. Khadhab  had spent considerable time refining his clandestine skills at the terrorist training camps of the Al Qaeda militant group.

Omar Abdulrahman Nabhan: He is a Kenyan who is a nephew to Swaleh Nabhan the associate of East Africa Al Qaeda terror mastermind Harun Fazul. The presumed leader of Al-Qaeda in East Africa, Fazul was killed in Mogadishu in June 2011.

Alakene and Mogadish were both Somali nationals of US extraction. Both were born in Somalia, but were also naturalised US citizens.

he experiences of these men were about to pay off in one of the most ambitious and highly choreographed strike to date on Kenyan soil.

The iconic Westgate Mall was the centerpiece of their plan. The mall insured through UK’s Lloyd’s for about Sh6.6 billion, was constructed several walls thick with the ability to withstand heavy bombardment.

Four days after the attack, the mall stood only shaken with a few cracks even after facing an anti-tank weapon

After studying exclusive footage unseen before, interviewing various witnesses and getting access to confidential information at the heart of the investigations, Standard On Saturday brings you the first true account, which in itself contradicts almost everything that the Government has been telling the public.

We unveil facts behind the Westgate siege from the moment the terrorists planned the attack, when the first security personnel  arrived for a rescue meeting, when soldiers shot dead a police officer to the moment the Government scrambled and started disseminating contradicting statements.

And finally, why you will probably find it hard to get a believable and accurate Government official account of what really transpired those four days in September. In the recent past, Kenya’s spy agency the National Intelligence Service (NIS) had issued various situational reports on possible terror attacks in the country.

Although the report mentioned a dozen names of potential terrorists and terror sympathizers, it did not have the names of the four men in the silver Mitsubishi sedan car. This, not surprisingly, was not the only security lapse before the attack.

Lodged in Eastleigh

Our story begins in the dusty streets of little Mogadishu, Eastleigh. Months before the attack, the attackers were able to obtain the map of the Westgate Mall  building.

According to details in a report leaked to the Standard On Standard from the team of investigators, the attackers identified a place so ideal for their operation that even if you located them, extraction would be a difficult task to undertake- Eastleigh’s 6th and 3rd streets.

“The planning may have been conducted at Evermay Lodge or used for preparation and  storage place,” an investigators report reads. “Possible accommodation area Eastleigh 6th street, known to have lodges associated with 6th street mosque.”

According to the report, “Evermay Lodge and Solar Lodge (were) most likely areas for meetings.” It’s believed that it’s from these places where the terrorists outlined their mission, using videos, photos and maps.

“The holder (Al Sudani) conducted confirmatory reconnaissance and final coordination,” the Intelligence brief reads. Other than Al Sudani, the choice of an operation base in Eastleigh also placed the Kenyan Alakene, the attacker who gave a child a chocolate bar after the young boy told him that “he is a very bad man” and who is captured by CCTV cameras escorting children out of the mall.

Beyond these bizarre acts of compassion, investigators believe he was one of the key men plotting the attacks. Three weeks ago, we visited Eastleigh in search of the family and friends of Alakene. For two days, no one identified himself as either a friend or member of the family of the man popularly known as Khadhab. At last, a journalist who used to practice in the area told us that Khadhab used to work in an Islamic bookshop in 6th Street Eastleigh before he was arrested and spirited away to a prison in Somalia, where it is alleged the CIA tortured him while in custody.  After being released, he is said to have travelled back Kenya and then returned to Somalia and joined the terror group Al-Shabaab.

As the plot took shape, spy agencies and counterterrorism officials warned about threats in various places including malls. However, connecting the dots proved a big challenge to security agencies that last dealt with a terror attack in 1998 and 2002.

They were only depending on bits and pieces of information and they never knew the men behind or the hour when terrorists would strike. Evidently, the attackers were several steps ahead in the game.  Whereas the anti-terror officers kept on monitoring the family of Sheikh Aboud Rogo and his associates who have kept on denying that they are linked to terrorism, the Westgate terror plot was developing fast far away in Somalia and in the Kakuma refugee camp, established in 1992 to serve Sudanese refugees.

Kakuma safe

In the recent past, the Dadaab refugee camp that is reputed to be the biggest refugee camp in the world has become a haven for terror attacks. Last year alone, the refugee camp was attacked over 10 times by terrorists who sneaked into the country through the porous border between Garissa County and southern Somalia.

When in 2009, Sudanese refugees began moving back to their country in anticipation of the referendum that eventually resulted in the division of the country to two, Sudan and South Sudan, the Kenya Government saw a window of opportunity to reduce the bulging population of Dadaab by moving   refugees from Dadaab to Kakuma.Security agencies put all their efforts in securing Dadaab and guarding the fragile border between Somalia and Kenya so as to stop terrorists from accessing Dadaab or other parts of the country. Information availed to us points out that knowing where the government’s focus was to be glued, the terrorists slipped into the country from Southern Sudan, entered Kakuma before travelling all the way down to Nairobi.

Once in Nairobi, they stayed under the radar for months until they resurfaced when their linkman Abdikadir Haret Mohamed visited a bank within the CBD.

Two weeks before the Westgate horror, on the evening of September 6, a CCTV camera positioned at the entrance to the Queensay House branch of Barclays bank on Mama Ngina Street picked out Abdikadir Haret Mohamed alias Muhammed Hussein entering the bank. During a press briefing, the Inspector General of Police David Kimaiyo described Abdikadir as “light skinned and about 5.8ft tall, speaks fluent Kiswahili and Sheng and is believed to be a Kenyan from Marehan clan in Mandera.”

He was also in the company of another suspect identified as Adan Dheq, aka Hussein Abdi Ali, a.k.a Abdulahi Dugon Subow who the police have said speaks in broken Kiswahili.

Visit to the bank

On that particular day, Abdikadir was visiting the bank to withdraw cash to buy a car, a vital piece for investigators. According to investigators, Abdikadir made a cash exchange of between US$4,000 and US$5,000. With the cash, both Ali and Abdikadir on various times made calls from their mobile phones to Elvis Weulo of Buruburu, a car owner  who was willing to sell his car registration number KAS 575X.

It’s in in this Mitsubishi saloon car that police found four SIM cards.

It ferried the attackers to Westgate. Investigators have revealed to The Standard On Saturday that all the SIM cards were found to have been activated on September 18 in Eastleigh. Intelligence officers frantically checked the SIM cards looking for details on records to reveal calls made and  who shared the same phone through employing IMEI numbers, a unique phone number for every mobile phone handset. The IMEI can be used to track a stolen or missing phone and provide information on calls made from that number.

-The Standard

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