The Kenyan military has named four members the Shabaab suicide assault team that attacked the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya two weeks ago. Among the four named Shabaab members is a Sudanese man who is said to have led the team. No Westerners have been named so far. From Reuters
Major Emmanuel Chirchir, the spokesman for the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF), named the four as Abu Baara al-Sudani, Omar Nabhan, Khattab al-Kene and Umayr.
“I confirm these were the terrorists. They all died in the raid,” Chirchir told Reuters, citing the findings of the KDF and national intelligence bodies.
He said Al-Sudani, which means “The Sudanese”, was the leader of the group shown in the CCTV footage and was trained by al Qaeda.
“He is an experienced fighter and sharpshooter,” he said.
Nabhan, a Kenyan of Arab origin, was born in the coastal city of Mombasa and travelled to Somalia with his uncle at the age of 16, said Chirchir.
Al-Kene was thought to be from the Somali capital Mogadishu, and was linked to country’s al Shabaab militants, he said.
Umayr’s full name, nationality and background were “not yet identified”, Chirchir added.
It is unclear if Kenyan forces have captured or recovered the bodies of other members of the assault team that attacked the Westgate. Between 10 and 15 fighters, split between several teams, are thought to have executed the attack, but there are credible reports that at least two fighters may have changed clothes and escaped during the confusion of the attack. Additionally, the Kenyan government claimed that nine people who are thought to be involved in the attack are in custody, but it is unclear if they were involved in the fighting or are part of the logistics and support network.
None of the information released today is surprising; Kenyans and Sudanese are known to serve with Shabaab. Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, a Kenyan citizen, was one of the most sought out al Qaeda operatives in Africa before he was killed by US SEALs in October 2009. He was wanted for involvement in al Qaeda’s 1998 suicide attacks against US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. He served as a top leader in both Shabaab and Al Qaeda East Africa, and also was instrumental in facilitating the official merger between al Qaeda and Shabaab.
Abu Talha al Sudani, a Sudanese citizen who was also wanted by the US for the 1998 suicide attacks in Kenya and Tanzania, also served as a top al Qaeda and Shabaab leader. He was killed in Somalia in 2007. Additionally, Mahmud Mujajir, another Sudanese citizen, serves as Shabaab’s chief of recruitment for suicide bombers.
Some of Shabaab’s top leaders are foreigners. And Shabaab itself is not confined to Somalia; it is part of what is known as Al Qaeda East Africa. The Kenya-based Muslim Youth Center (since renamed Al Hirja), acknowledged the existence of Al Qaeda East Africa when it and Shabaab officially merged with al Qaeda in February 2012. And just to highlight that al Qaeda’s network in East Africa is not limited to Somalia, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, who led Al Qaeda East Africa before he was killed in the summer of 2011 and also was a top leader in Shabaab, was from the Comoro Islands.
So we shouldn’t be surprised to learn that Shabaab’s Westgate assault team is made up of fighters from outside Somalia.