Eastleigh’s Hong Kong Shopping Mall is the hub of clothes traders in the Eastlands suburb of Nairobi. But it was from here that one of the Westgate attack planners ran a shop that perfectly camouflaged his activities.
While the 30-year-old Garissa-born Mohamed Ahmed Abdi ran a shop on Eastleigh’s 12th Street, he was also in constant touch with the lead Westgate attacker, Mohammed Abdinur Said, who had arrived in Nairobi in July 2013.
Abdi was also a madrasa teacher and recruited his students into hate; enticing them to carry the ideology of jihad and downloading radical teachings for them.
Recently jailed for 33 years after he was caught by Anti-Terrorism Police Unit (ATPU), Abdi claimed that Abdinur, the lead Westgate attacker, was his brother-in-law and was to marry his sister Rahma. But Directorate of Criminal Investigation (DCI) detectives later found that the relationship between the Abdi and Abdinur was much deeper – and “was more than that of a social acquaintance”.
Also, there were no phone records to suggest any communication between Abdi’s sister Rahma and Abdinur, the attacker, to indicate they were dating or got married.
Abdi had played a critical role in organising the Westgate raid from his Eastleigh shop. First, he sought accommodation for the terrorists from unsuspecting landlords in Eastleigh.
For instance, when Abdinur got a Sh7,000-a-month room on Eastleigh’s 4th Street, he had no household items.
“He moved into the house alone, with a mattress and briefcase,” his landlord, Fartun Ali -- who lived on the ground floor of the three-bedroom house -- would later tell detectives.
On the day of the Westgate raid, Abdinur told his landlord that he was leaving. But he left with only his briefcase, minus the beddings and mattress. That briefcase was later found in an abandoned car outside Westgate: “I thought he was going for an errand," the landlord later told detectives.
During his stay in Eastleigh, Abdinur was a loner, but he would receive a single visitor. That man is thought to be Abdi, the clothes trader.
As it later emerged, Abdinur was not a stranger in Kenya. He had been at the Kakuma refugee camp in northern Kenya, where he was registered as refugee No 1155330 in January 2009. He had attended Gambela Primary School. He was then 16.
Although his school fees was paid by the UNHCR, Abdinur later disappeared into Somalia, immersing himself in jihadist organisations and finally agreeing to die in a “holy war”. At Kakuma, he had told his friends that he was going to visit his sick mother in Mogadishu, a city wracked by war and violence.
When he emerged in July 2013 in Eastleigh, while plotting to attack the Westgate mall, he met a Kakuma classmate, Abdi Fata, who was living on 12th Street while going to college.
“His hairstyle had changed. He also spotted a beard and appeared slim,” Fata, who was a student at Alimira College, next to the Eastleigh Airbase, while selling miraa, would later tell the court.
Abdinur asked his former Kakuma classmate for a favour: He was looking for love, a woman to marry. But although the Westgate terrorist was introduced to a woman named Zam Zamu, also a student at Alimira College, she refused to get engaged to him since she did not know Abdinur’s background and family. Perhaps she suspected something, said detectives.
Upset by Zam Zamu’s rejection, Abdinur insulted her to an extent that his former classmate had to intervene.
“I asked Abdinur why he had abused the lady and we exchanged bitter words over the phone in July 2013,” Fata told detectives, painting the picture of a bully.
Besides looking for accommodation for the terrorists, the Eastleigh shopkeeper also made sure the logistics for the attack were in place. That is why when the lead Westgate attacker Abdinur arrived at the Wajir International Airport, he first called Abdi. But there was more to him than being a shopkeeper and a madrasa teacher.
Deleted incriminating material
Nine days after the Westgate attack, on September 30, Abdi boarded a matatu in Nairobi, fleeing towards the sprawling Kakuma refugee camp. He carried his laptop after deleting incriminating material – or so he thought.
By then, officers from the Anti-Terrorism Police Unit (ATPU) were after him. Although he had gone missing from his Hong Kong Shopping Mall shop, the ATPU officers knew he had not left the city.
Finally, he made the mistake of switching on his phone and intelligence officers knew that Abdi was heading to Kitale. A few kilometres from Kitale town, at around 4pm, ATPU officers placed a road block on the highway and flagged down the matatu carrying Abdi. Finally, they had the man they were looking for, thanks to technology.
Abdi was still clutching his laptop, which would reveal his true story. After he was arrested, the laptop was taken to DCI’s forensic computer laboratory in Nairobi for analysis.
“I used a tool called Assessment Behavioural Tool to retrieve the data from the hard drive,” DCI computer analyst Joseph Kolum told the court. He also used the Forensic Tool Kit to pull information from the laptop and to unlock the passwords.
“After that, I could see which sites the laptop user had previously visited and the footprints of his terror activities.”
Mr Kolum was able to review the internet history of the laptop’s user. He noted that one of the sites regularly visited was an al-Shabaab propaganda site, Alkhataib, and Abdi seemed interested in the workings of an AK-47 rifle and how to dismantle and reconstruct the gun. He was also interested in jihad teachings by Abu al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian jihadist killed in a US airstrike in June 2006.
Recruiter and teacher
As an avid consumer of jihad teachings, and while running a madrasa, it was not lost to detectives that Abdi was an insider in al-Shabaab -- a recruiter and a teacher.
“The incriminating material could be used in instigation, preparation and facilitation of acts of terrorism, Mr Kolum, the DCI computer analyst, told the court.
It was also found that he had also searched “Westgate” to plan how to enter the mall, downloading images of the building and noting the entry points.
Abdi told the court that his relationship with Mustafa, the tailor (see separate story) was that of a seller and customer: “He would order clothes and I would call and let him know when new stock had arrived.”
So connected was Abdi that he was making calls to South Africa, USA, South Sudan and Sweden. But in court, he denied being in possession of a laptop. After all, it contained all that he believed in: jihadist ideas.
Tomorrow: How DCI detectives found an abandoned car that had all the crucial evidence.