Three Kenyans and two Somalis linked to the Dadaab refugee camp in northeastern Garissa County carried out the January attack claimed by Al-Shabaab on the DusitD2 hotel complex in Nairobi, according to United Nations experts.
A fourth Kenyan citizen based in Mandera County served as “a key financing link between Al-Shabaab in Somalia and the attacking cell in Kenya,” adds a report by the UN experts released on November 12.
The findings lend some substance to Shabaab's claim in June that it has recruited “an army of fighters from the Kenyan population itself”.
The Dusit attack also highlights what the UN experts describe as “a newly observed dimension of Al-Shabaab's recruitment strategy”.
“The possession of criminal skills, including knowledge of evading law enforcement, are privileged over ideology or affiliation with certain mosques or religious networks,” the report says.
Ali Salim Gichunge, born in Isiolo in 1995, is named as the organiser and coordinator of the Dusit attack which left 26 people dead, including a suicide bomber and four gunmen.
“Unusually for a Kenyan operative within Al-Shabaab,” the report notes, “Gichunge was given wide discretion and autonomy over the particulars of the plot — including the selection of the target — rather than being directly overseen from within Somalia.”
Gichunge and his wife, Violet Wanjiru, established a safe house in Guango Estate, Muchatha, on the outskirts of Nairobi, about nine months before the attack, the report finds.
Another Kenyan national, Osman Ibrahim Gedi, served as Gichunge's lieutenant, the experts say.
The assault on the Dusit complex began at 3.28pm East African time on January 15 when a third Kenyan, Mombasa-born Mahir Khalid Riziki, detonated a suicide bomb, the report recounts.
Siyat Omar Abdi, a Somali born in the Dadaab refugee complex in 1992, was among the gunmen who stormed the hotel.
The UN experts say they obtained a Dadaab identification and ration card number attributed to Abdi through his fingerprint. But officials with the UN refugee programme in Dadaab say there is no record of Abdi in their databases, the report notes.
A fifth member of Shabaab's Dusit attack unit has not been identified but is presumed to be of Somali origin, the report adds. This individual activated a new Kenyan mobile phone in Dadaab's Dagahaley camp on December 15, 2018, according to the UN panel of experts.
Also implicated in the Dusit attack is Abdi Ali Mohamed, a Kenyan national based in Mandera. He used three phone numbers to transmit almost Sh700,000 to Shabaab cell leader Gichunge via M-Pesa, the report states.
“A conservative estimate of the total cost of the DusitD2 operation was between $45,000 and $50,000 (Sh4 million and Sh5 million),” the experts suggest.
Riziki, the suicide bomber, was recruited in 2014 by Ramadhan Hamisi Kufungwa, described in the report as “a well-known Kenyan Al-Shabaab recruiter now located in Somalia”.
The recruitment was centred on the Musa Mosque in Mombasa, which the experts say “has long been associated with radicalisation, recruitment for Al-Shabaab, and religious violence”.