How Westgate attack plotters tried to cover up the heinous act


When plotters of the Westgate Shopping Mall terror attack were presented at the Milimani Law Court on October 7, 20220. [David Gichuru, Standard]

Going by the terrorists’ calculations, the Westgate Mall attack was to be ‘clean’, meaning that the attackers plotted to destroy any evidence that would have led to other plotters being traced or arrested.

However, their failure to understand the chemistry of oxygen and combustion foiled their entire plot.

Two Somali nationals - Mohammed Ahmed Abdi and Hussein Hassan Mustafa are serving 22 years behind bars for the attack. They were to know the fate of their appeal on Friday but High Court Judge Grace Nzioka postponed the ruling.

It was the second time that the Judge was pushing their date with fate as she was to deliver the ruling last month.

Nevertheless, court documents filed by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) through Principal Prosecution Counsel Duncan Ondimu gives insights of what transpired, including heroic actions by school children, who were caught up in the attack.

Ondimu told the court that Ahmed and Hassan had tried to delink themselves from the attackers by arguing that they could not have kept their mobile phones if they were part of the attackers.

However, he painted a picture of a well-planned plot that if all went as had been  calculated, then no one would have been traced after the attack.

According to the State, the plan was to destroy all SIM cards used in the planning of the September 21, 2013 attack. The court heard that they were to be burnt alongside the vehicle that the attackers had used to get to the venue, a Mitsubishi KAS 575X.

The vehicle was acquired at a cost of Sh340,000. The buyers were one Hussein Abdi and the witness between Abdi and the seller was Mohamed Hussein. Security agencies traced the money to Barclays Bank Queensway branch.

In the meantime, the car also had a third-party insurance cover which was procured by one Abdulahi Surow. Inside the vehicle were shredded pieces of papers, Safaricom lines application form, and a grenade safety pin.

The attackers set the vehicle on fire from inside to distract the public and to destroy all evidence of their communications.

Unfortunately, when they shut the doors of the vehicle, it snuffed out oxygen in the car and the fire died.

This is the mistake they made. Kenya security agencies secured at least four sim card holders from the vehicle.

Private sector security guards gather at the Westgate Shopping Mall during the 10th anniversary of the terror attack. [File, Standard]

With the help of the National Intelligence Service (NIS), the multi-agency team that was hunting for plotters and attackers linked Ahmed and Hassan to it.  An analysis of two mobile numbers indicated that they were active at the Westgate Mall during the attack.

According to Ondimu, the two were linked to the SIM card holders in the car. The other two mobile numbers, he said, were off but had been operated within Kenya.

 He said that at one point, security agencies were able to put pieces of information together that showed Ahmed and Hassan had used the same handset as one of the attackers Mohamed Abdinur Said. The DPP said that on August 13, 2013, Ahmed used Abdinur’s phone to call his mother.

Abdinur was the mastermind of the Westgate attack. The court heard that he communicated with Ahmed at least 188 times between June and September 2013. He was also said to have talked to Hassan via mobile phone at least 26 times.

Ahmed on his end stated that Abdinur was to be his brother-in-law since he intended to marry his sister Rakhman. He further claimed that he knew the terrorist sometime in April 2013 adding that both his sister and the to-be husband were living in Eastleigh with his uncle.

However, Ondimu told the court that Ahmed did not have anything to link him to Rakhman. The mobile number he gave, claiming to be her’s, was not active.

Instead, Ondimu stated that Ahmed admitted to knowing Hassan before they were both arrested.

Abdinur was originally seeking asylum and living at Kakuma Refugee Camp. He then sublet a room for Sh7,000 in Eastleigh’s Fourth Street and executed the cowardly act.

Justice Nzioka heard that security agencies also re-assembled some papers that were in the vehicle.

With this, the court heard that the organisation and planning of the mall attack started early in June 2013.

 Hassan, on the other hand, claimed that the calls traced to him from Ahmed were for business transactions.

 The convict stated that he used to sell clothes to Ahmed and whenever he called, he was demanding payments.

 Nevertheless, Ondimu was of the view that the only text message he produced did not raise any issue of clothes or settlement of debt. Ahmed was arrested on September 30, 2013. Hassan sent him a text message 13 days later.

Ondimu argued that he tried to reach out to Ahmed because he did not know that he had been arrested and his phone confiscated.

The prosecutor observed that it was unclear what Hassan was doing with his life as he told Police Constable Karuan Ole Sauli, who was one of the arresting officers, that he was a cashier at Bursa Dental Clinic, where he was arrested.

 Hassan also told the court that his link to Abdinur was simply football. He alleged that they knew each other at Kakuma and played football together but lost contact sometime in 2009 or 2010.

In addition, he stated that they met again three years later in Nairobi and started talking about football.

On the flip side, Ondimu stated that Hassan would exchange eight calls with the attacker in a span of 20 minutes. This, he argued, could not be an anyhow conversation about football.

“First, apart from his own word, there is no evidence that they ever played football with Abdinur or so it is only his word,” Ondimu argued.

Pointing out, “The communication between the two would last for a few seconds and they would exchange like eight calls within a span of 20 minutes, one after another speaking for just a few seconds.”

Traced to Uganda

Abdinur had been traced to Uganda and call data showed that he was speaking to the other attackers - Abubakar and Dhuhulow. Ondimu stated that he would then call Hassan and Ahmed.

According to him, Abdinur had assigned roles to each of them.

The other attacker, Yahya Osman was also traced to Uganda, the time when Abdinur rented the Eastleigh apartment.

“It is also clear from the call data that the attackers did not only communicate among themselves, but also with the accused persons. The attackers would talk among themselves, and then call the accused persons. This was the trend from June 2013 when the 1st attacker, Abdinur arrived in Kenya via Uganda,” argued Ondimu.

The attack started like a normal robbery in a sunny Saturday afternoon when armed Al-Shabaab terrorists stormed the upmarket mall in Nairobi.

What followed was a battle for survival for hundreds of shoppers, workers and partygoers who were interrupted by gunmen shooting indiscriminately at anyone on sight and detonating grenades at will.

At the end of the siege which lasted five days, 62 people were killed with more than 200 people injured and property worth billions of shillings destroyed. However, Kenyan gallant spirit was seen in the rescue and aid to those who were maimed and injured. From court records, it now emerges that children too saved lives from the wrath of the attackers.

When the masterminds of the Westgate Shopping Mall terror attack were presented at Milimani Law Court. [File, Standard]

On the material day, there was an East FM ceremony at the mall in which children were attending. The court heard that one of the victims of the terror attack was a casual worker who had also attended the event.

He testified that he was shot on the leg, shoulder and was unable to talk. However, it was the children who helped him out and he was taken to hospital.

Another witness claimed that he heard one of the attackers shouting that their interest was not in children or women. After seven years of trial, Ahmed and Hassan were found guilty on October 7, 2020. The then Chief Magistrate Francis Andayi (now a High Court Judge) ruled that there was a link between the two and the attackers. He observed that they were smoked out from Eastleigh before attempting to flee from the capital.

“I find them guilty as charged and convict them accordingly for being conspirators to the terrorist act that left 67 people dead, hundreds injured and property destroyed,” ruled Andayi 

Adding that, “The frequency of their conversation with the attackers proves that they had a common intention to kill.” Abdinur was the mastermind. The court observed that there was video evidence on his laptop which encouraged the Al-Shabaab to kill ‘infidels’ and action videos similar to what took place at Westgate. According to the magistrate, they intended to collude with the attackers to cause fear to members of the public, kill and destroy property.

“It is clear that there was mutual agreement between them and the actual attackers to carry out terrorism. The prosecution didn’t have to prove their actual presence at the scene as the call data show the coordination they did from their hideout,” ruled Andayi.

Andayi recreated the scene of the terror attack based on first-hand witness testimonies before analysing the investigator's report and arriving at the decision to punish the two.

Witnesses at the scene testified that at around 12.30pm on September 21, 2013, four attackers wearing black jackets, dark glasses and headscarves stormed the shopping mall and started shooting indiscriminately.

Those inside the mall thought it was a normal robbery and came out to check what was happening only to encounter terrorists shouting that they are Al-Shabaab and were on a mission to kill anyone they considered an infidel.

Police witnesses who arrived at the scene also stated they at first thought it was a robbery until they got into the mall and started exchanging fire.

A hunt ensued for the terrorists which took five days after the four attackers were killed inside the building.

After identifying the attackers and recovering mobile phones they were using, investigators started piecing together information which led them to the command centre in Eastleigh where Abdi is said to have been issuing instructions.

A few days after the incident, Abdi was arrested in Kitale after fleeing from Nairobi and found with a laptop that contained articles and videos on terrorism planning and execution.

Aggrieved, Abdi and Hassan filed an appeal before the High Court. They claimed that the charges were defective. They also claimed that the sentence was excessive.

On the other hand, Ondimu argued that the attack was meant to intimidate and cause fear among members of the public. The attack was Justice Nzioka will deliver her judgment on June 26, 2024.