Kenyan authorities are investigating local roles in the Nairobi attack



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NAIROBI (Reuters) – Investigators in Kenya are exploring the possibility that some militants who attacked a hotel and office complex in Nairobi may not be ethnic Somalis, fueling fears that insurgents are deepening their recruitment groups in the region.

Osman Ibrahim was escorted from the Mililani Law Court where he emerged as a suspect in connection with an attack on the DusitD2 complex, in Nairobi, Kenya January 18 2019. REUTERS / Thomas Mukoya

Officials have released details about the attack team of five people who carried out Tuesday's siege at the dusitD2 hotel complex, an attack that killed 21 people and claimed by al Shabaab, an al Qaeda affiliate based in Somalia.

But police, private security sources and local media reports have highlighted the involvement of the 26-year-old suspect identified in court documents as Ali Salim Gichunge, who was born and raised in central Kenya, as evidence of the group's appeal to several people outside its traditional fortress.

"The government needs to see the profile (Gichunge). How did he get to where he is now? "Said a private security official in Kenya, who asked not to be identified for operational reasons.

"If al Shabaab can imitate this model, then there is a fundamental problem."

All five attackers were killed in Tuesday's attack, the country's president said in a speech broadcast the following morning. Police said on Friday that they had arrested nine other suspects in connection with the incident.

Five of the suspects, one of whom was registered as a Canadian citizen, was taken to a judge's court and ordered to be detained for 30 days. Dua is a taxi driver and one is a mobile financial services agent, said court documents.

Others have not yet appeared. They could have been released or taken to court on Saturday. The police can detain suspects for 24 hours and need a court order to extend this.

An unauthorized official to discuss a public investigation also told Reuters that police were chasing a woman who allegedly took a gun to Nairobi from Kiunga, near the border with Somalia, through the port city of Mombasa.

There are programs aimed at preventing radicalization in Kenya, but analysts say the effort seems to fail. People close to Gichunge said they were stunned when he appeared on CCTV footage of an attack carrying an assault rifle and shooting at a white car.

"I have many questions that need answers just like anyone else," said Gichunge's sister, who was contacted by telephone in Mombasa. "I also saw it on TV, and we didn't expect him to be there."

The couple's father was an officer in the Kenyan military, he told Reuters.

"It cannot be imagined how a son of a military soldier can turn out to be a member of al-Shabaab," he said.

Despite being raised as a Muslim, Gichunge began his education at a Catholic mission school in his hometown, Isiolo, before moving to the central area of ​​Meru for high school, where he was intimidated and brutally beaten, he said.

Gichunge, who also used alias Faruk, was later secured working at an internet cafe on Isiolo.

"It all starts there," said his brother. "He can access new material online, go to Facebook, he starts learning Arabic and all kinds of things."

He said he lost contact with his brother when he moved to Lamu, on the coast of Kenya near the border with Somalia, in 2015.

"He is a very quiet person," a friend of Gichunge told Reuters, asking not to be named. "You would never expect him to be like that."

A police official and a private security professional who took part in the rescue effort in the complex said a man who blew himself up outside a restaurant was also believed not to be Somali.

A pedestrian hears him repeating "where are you?" With Swahili perfect, maybe on the phone, security professionals told Reuters. This language is used throughout Kenya but not in Somalia where most people speak Somali.

Al Shabaab, which struggled to impose strict Islamic law, has in the past recruited several East Africans, including four Kenyans and three Ugandans who were charged in connection with the bombings in Uganda in 2010.

Rashid Abdi, Director of the African Horn Project at the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank, said the group had been actively recruiting in the region.

"Al Shabaab remains an organization with its roots in Somalia but has developed into a transnational regional jihadist organization," he said.

Slideshow (8 pictures)

Al Shabaab has launched several major attacks in Kenya in recent years, including the 2013 attacks on shopping centers in the same neighborhood as Tuesday's attack. Kenya angered the group in 2011 by sending troops to create a buffer zone along the country's shared borders.

Al Shabaab said it carried out an attack Tuesday over US President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Sixteen Kenyans, including a policeman, an American who survived the September 11, 2001 attacks on Al Qaeda in the United States, and a British development worker were among those killed in the 14 Riverside Drive complex.

Additional reporting and writing by Omar Mohammed and David Lewis; Edited by George Obulutsa, Alexandra Zavis, William Maclean

Our standards:Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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