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Kenya mall attacker 'not a troublemaker'

| Friday, Oct. 18, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Norwegian-Somali Hassan Abdi Dhuhulow sits on a rock during a school outing in June 2007 in Larvik, Norway.

NAIROBI, Kenya — Quiet and respectful at the mosque as a boy, Hassan Abdi Dhuhulow later became angry and radicalized, people in the coastal town in Norway where he grew up said Friday of the Somali native — the first Westgate Mall attacker to be identified.

Security camera images show the 23-year-old and three other gunmen firing coldly on shoppers as they made their way along store aisles in the upscale mall four weeks ago Saturday.

Until recently, investigators had referred to the attackers only by the colors of their shirts. However, two officials in Nairobi, one Western and one Kenyan, confirmed on Friday that one of the gunmen had been identified as Dhuhulow.

The suspect's 26-year-old sister, reached in the southern Norwegian town of Larvik, said his family was unaware of any role he may have played in the four-day siege that killed at least 67 people.

“I don't want to believe this. I don't believe that this is him. It doesn't look like him. It isn't him,” Idman Dhuhulow said from the quiet town of 40,000 nestled between mountains and the sea, where Dhuhulow lived when his family moved there from Somalia in 1999.

She said her brother went to the Somali capital of Mogadishu for a three-month visit in 2009, then moved to Somalia for good in March of the following year.

He had been studying economics in Norway, and “his plan was to go back to Mogadishu and study there,” she said.

“We had the best relationship that you can have. He was nice and careful,” she said, adding that she had read media reports that he had become radicalized, but “that's not something I saw.”

Mohamed Hassan, a leader in the Somali immigrant community in Larvik, described Dhuhulow as respectful to his elders as a young boy and teen.

“He was a quiet, lovable boy while he was here. I never saw him fight other young boys. He was not a troublemaker here in Larvik,” Hassan said.

However, others recalled a different Dhuhulow.

Bashe Musse, a Somali Norwegian community leader in Oslo, said Dhuhulow had become radicalized in the years before he left Norway. And another man, who would give only his first name, Yussuf, said a man he believes was the Norwegian-Somali gunman was associated with “pretty radical” circles in Norway.

“He was mad. He didn't feel at home in Norway,” said Yussuf, who declined to give his last name for fear of reprisals from sympathizers of al-Shabab, the Somali militant group behind the mall attack.

Yussuf said he met the man he knew as Abdi in 2008 in Oslo and had not had any contact with him since, but several people he knew recognized him in the closed-circuit TV footage of the mall attack.

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