Detectives from the Anti-Terrorism Police Unit on Friday combed Mombasa and Isiolo counties in search of suspects linked to the DusitD2 terror attack as fresh details about the key suspect emerged.
Sources close to the investigations told Saturday Nation that two sets of detectives travelled to the two counties in search of associates of the suspected mastermind, Ali Salim Gichunge.
Mr Gichunge, who is said to have been felled during the attack, grew up in Isiolo before relocating to Mombasa and later to Lamu counties.
In Mombasa, the detectives concentrated their search in the notorious Bondeni area where Mr Gichunge is said to have operated from for close to four months.
The sources, who sought anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter, revealed that a man was arrested and taken for interrogation by the officers.
The officers arrested the man, said to be a taxi driver, in the area on Thursday.
"I saw officers in plainclothes at around 10am. They then left with the man who has been operating as a taxi driver," said an eyewitness at the busy Bondeni. A top security officer in Mombasa confirmed the arrival of the team, saying it is being co-ordinated from Nairobi.
“The team is from Nairobi. We are not involved in their operation but I know there are leads they are following this side,” said the officer who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The second team combed Isiolo town and its environs in search of Mr Gichunge’s suspected accomplices for the better part of Wednesday and Thursday.
Mr Gichunge alias Farouk had roots in Isiolo’s Kulamawe ‘Kwa Franco’ area and is believed to have been radicalised while working at a cyber cafe in the town.
Already, Gichunge’s parents — Mr Abdalla Salim, a sergeant with the Kenya Defense Forces and Ms Sakina Mariam — have been summoned to the Directorate of Criminal Investigations headquarters in Nairobi for interrogation.
On Thursday, Isiolo County Criminal Investigation Officer Raphael Wawire only confirmed that Gichunge’s mother had been taken to DCI headquarters for questioning.
Mr Gichunge, known in Isiolo as Ali, was the second born in a family of five children and worked as a cybercafé attendant.
He served as a casual staff in a famous Isiolo hotel earning about Sh10,000 monthly between January 2014 and May 2015 when he was sacked for “rudeness”.
He had been introduced to the hotel’s management by his mother Sakina who pleaded his case for employment so that he could support the family. His father had separated with his mother who was then forced to provide for the family.
After high school, Mr Gichunge had studied IT within the township before being employed at the hotel’s cybercafé.
It was during this time that Mr Gichunge’s behaviour completely changed, according to a manager at the hotel who also sought anonymity.
“He was a quiet and hardworking when he started working but after a while he became rude when questioned and turned extremely religious, attracting suspicious reactions from everyone,” said the source, adding that he could not have suspected that Mr Gichunge could fall in the hands of terrorists.
He grew beards, changed his dress code to kanzu, withdrew from friends, became conservative and spendthrift at the facility, leading to his eventual dismissal.
Mr Gichunge had a close ally who frequented the cybercafé to a point of personalising one of the computers for himself by setting up his own password. No client would be allowed to access the computer prompting the management to kick out the ‘supposed’ friend.
At some point, Mr Gichunge is said to have asked for a Sh10,000 loan explaining thus: “I need money and I am not in a position to raise the amount I require and I can only get it from you (my employer) but one day Inshallah, I will have it”.
The hotel’s management refuted claims that the cybercafé was raided by police shortly after Mr Gichunge left over terror-related suspicions.
He instead said it was officials from the Music Copyright Society of Kenya who visited the cybercafé in the company of police officers for their normal inspection but did not cart away anything.
Prior to the cybercafé job, the suspect is said to have ventured into miraa business within Isiolo town.
According to Mr Gichunge’s sister, Amina Shariff, her brother was indoctrinated while studying at the Al Falah Madrasa in Isiolo town before he relocated to Meru town and later, Mombasa in early 2016.
“He said his friend asked him to go to Mombasa where he would be in charge of a construction site,” she added.
After a month of silence, his friend went back to Mr Gichunge’s Isiolo home to ask for him from his family.
“The guy came and asked us if Ali was home and I wondered why because I knew the two were together in Mombasa,” she said.
It is then that he sought refuge in Bondeni, Mombasa, according to police sources. “The information we have is that he lived here for about four months before heading to Somalia through Lamu,” a police source said.
Later in 2017, Ms Shariff received an anonymous call from her brother who informed her that he was ‘on the other side of Lamu’.
“When I received the call he told me that he was out of Kenya and would come back home soon. He told me he was nearing completion of his studies. He insisted that he had received knowledge and would come to teach others and lead them to the right path,” she added.
It is unclear how Mr Gichunge ended up in Nairobi as he had cut off all communication with his family.