The terrorist who participated in the killing of at least 14 people at DusitD2 complex in Riverside Drive, Nairobi, lived an ordinary life in Kiambu and loved listening to blaring Kenyan urban pop music from his Toyota Ractis whose unmuffled exhaust system gave its engine a loud roar.
Ali Salim Gichunge alias Idris or Farouk did not cut the image of a militant. He looked ordinary and loved a fine life.
His neighbours at Guango, a gated estate in Mucatha, Ruaka, described him as a regular guy who had no definite routine but his presence was easily recognisable due to the loud music from his car.
Guango is a middle-income estate in Kiambu County with 200 townhouses surrounded by a stone wall and razor wire. It is here that Salim lived since March 21 last year. Records at the gate show he never received any visitors.
The killer was always in blue jeans and a denim cap that covered his clean-shaven head and had dyed his goatee orange. A security guard told us he rarely used the main gate, which is manned and preferred using a back route to come in and out.
Had never commented
He lived in house number E9 with a woman we identified as Violet Kemunto Omwoyo who was arrested by Anti-Terror Police Unit (ATPU) officers on Tuesday night, as an operation to neutralise the terrorists was ongoing at dusitD2.
The couple was secretive and rarely interacted with neighbours. Up to Wednesday morning, Salim and Violet had never commented on the estate’s Whatsapp group since the time they were added in October last year.
Rent at the estate ranges between Sh30,000 and Sh40,000 a month for a four bed-roomed house. The two had however not paid rent for the past two months. The landlady reportedly told security guards not to allow them to remove their household goods until all arrears had been paid.
On Monday morning, just a day before the attack, Violet -- through a pseudo name on Facebook known as Junior Red -- put up a post selling their household property.
“We are moving out of Nairobi this week so it is a quick sale. Prices slightly negotiable,” she posted.
Going through the items they wanted to sell, we now know that they were living large. Part of the property for sale were Phat Farm loafers which go for Sh4,000, a 49-inch smart TV, a seven-seater velvet sofa set, a rice cooker and Ramtons two-door fridge which they were disposing of for Sh30,000.
Interestingly, Salim was outspoken and had made some friends in the estate while Violet was reserved. She wore a hijab which concealed her identity. The only clue we have from people who had interacted with her is that she is light skinned.
Her profile picture on Whatsapp is that of a woman’s face covered by a black hijab and a red and black bandana.
And, the couple loved beef. No single day passed without Salim buying either a kilo or half a kilo of meat at ACCT butchery at the entrance of Guango estate from Banana Road.
“We only interacted with him as customers. He was always with a light-skinned girl,” Chege Kariuki, a butcher at ACCT told The Standard yesterday
“The turbo exhaust of that car was loud enough that you could hear it from a distance,” he recalled.
Anthony Njenga, who sells second-hand clothes next to the butchery, had bumped into the killer on several occasions. He could not believe that the person he knew would be part of a terror gang that would slaughter Kenyans.
“I am still shocked because you cannot imagine he would have done such kind of a thing,” said Njenga. “He (Salim) would not have passed you without saying hi,” he said.
Wanted a black skull
Salim’s car, a Toyota Ractis which was one of two vehicles used in the attack and which we have established was using a fake number plate KCN 340E, was last seen at Guango estate last week.
Interestingly, another Toyota Ractis with a similar number plate was impounded by police in Kitengela on Wednesday. By last night it was not clear whether or not I the light blue car was the one owned by Cynkim Investment Company, according to a registration document seen by The Standard.
A month before the dusitD2 attack, the killer took his car to get a skull branded on its rear. Marlon Omondi, the owner of 23 Marketing Concepts in Rumwe House along Mfangano Street, Nairobi, said the killer sent the design he wanted.
“He found us online and told us he had knocked (sic) his car’s rear and wanted to hide the dent,” recalled Marlon.
“He specifically said that he wanted a skull and he sent us the one he wanted through a link on Pinterest,” he said.
Pinterest is a social network that allows users to visually share, and discover interests by posting images and videos on their online boards known as pins. Users discover images and videos through themes they have an interest in.
A Google reverse image search on Violet’s Whatsapp profile picture shows it was downloaded from Pinterest.
Now Salim wanted a black skull with a gas mask and two headphones to be branded on two cars. He promised Omondi that his friend would bring the other car once the Ractis was branded. That was on December 13 last year.