The terrorist attack on the DusitD2 Complex in Nairobi was planned on social media, investigations show.
A probe into the January 15, 2019 incident shows the attackers opened a Facebook account and used it in their planning to the last day of the raid.
On the account, they exchanged ideas on the best weapons to use and how to use them in executing the mission.
Among the arsenal were suicide vests. The account ran for almost six months undetected until and after the attack.
Detectives from the Anti-Terror Police Unit stumbled on the account as they sieved through gadgets recovered from the house of one of the suspects involved in the attack, officials aware of the investigations said.
They have since confirmed the terrorists had avoided using mobile phones in their communication and shifted to Facebook to coordinate the mission.
“This is a classic case showing how these terrorists can make use of social media in a way that is hard for police to execute a mission. We are aware of this trend,” said a senior officer aware of the probe.
All five attackers including a suicide bomber and at least 21 other people were killed in the raid. The attack remains fresh in the minds of many Kenyans.
The terrorists’ images emerged last year in December when al Shabaab released a seven minutes clip showing them preparing to attack the complex.
The terror group claimed the mission leader was a Kenyan identified as Ali Salim Gichunge. The others were named as Osman Ahmed Hassan, Abdigani Arap Yusuf, Mohamed Adam Nur and Mahir Khalid.
Khalid was the suicide bomber who died first by detonating a vest before other terrorists followed with bullets and other explosives. He was seen talking on the phone before he blew himself up.
He was apparently asking the other terrorists where they were because the time for the attack had lapsed.
The al Shabaab video also claims three of the attackers were Kenyan while two were Somali. They could be heard speaking in Kiswahili. They had all been to Somalia for terror coaching and radicalisation before they came back to execute the attack.
The five attackers were seen dining together. They claimed their assault was provoked by US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish State in reference to Israel.
The DusitD2 complex was frequented by diplomats including Americans and Israeli nationals living in Nairobi.
Security agencies have since dismissed the al Shabaab video as propaganda aimed at justifying the attack as being led by homegrown terrorists.
Authorities say they have enhanced security in the country ahead of the second anniversary which is also coincidentally the fifth anniversary of the El Adde attack in Somalia where more than 100 Kenyan troops were killed by militants.
As part of efforts to reinforce and boost the morale of the security personnel involved in the war against terrorism, police bosses have been visiting the units in low-scale activities and encouraging them to remain vigilant.
Led by Inspector General Hilary Mutyambai, the bosses have in the past weeks visited the ATPU offices, Directorate of Criminal Investigations headquarters, Rapid Deployment Unit, Border Patrol Unit, Recce, General Service Unit and other special forces for morale-boosting.
On January 5, the security chiefs marked, in a low-key event, the first anniversary of the attack on Manda military base by the terrorists in Lamu. Mutyambai visited the ATPU headquarters in Nairobi to mark the day.
The IG on Wednesday said they are alert but urged for continued public vigilance as mitigation against any attack.
And after the Dusit attack, security agencies moved to a different mode to check on any other person remaining in the cell that attacked the complex. They realised one Cholo Abdi Abdullahi, 30, from Isiolo was on the loose and left Kenya after the attack in Nairobi.
It has now emerged Isiolo is one of the regions that are increasingly becoming a terror cell for recruitment. Gichunge grew up in Isiolo. Authorities have put the region under the microscope.
Many young are often recruited from Isiolo and taken to Somalia on the promise of jobs and money.
Officials have been focusing on the region to de-escalate the situation. More funding is being channeled to the counties to mitigate the effects of radicalisation there. Kwale, Mombasa, Lamu, Wajir, Mandera, Marsabit and Nairobi are some of the other counties affected by radicalism and violent extremism.
Cholo was arrested in July 2019 in the Philippines for plotting to attack the USA. He was among the few remaining in the cell that planned and attacked the Dusit complex in Nairobi.
According to police, Cholo schooled St Kizito Primary in Isiolo and later joined St Paul’s Kiwanjani Secondary where he did his Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education exam in 2010. He later enrolled for journalism studies at a private university in Nairobi.
He is believed to have crossed over to Somalia before proceeding to the Philippines. He vanished from his home in 2016. His parents reported to police he had disappeared.
He went to the Philippines in 2016 and enrolled at the All-Asia Aviation Academy, where he trained as a commercial pilot between 2017 and 2018.
It is not clear who was financing his studies, but officials suspect al Shabaab did. Police believe the DusitD2 cell is now cleared but remain alert in case another one emerges.
Kenyan authorities were praised for reacting to the terror attack quickly, unlike during the Westgate tragedy in 2013 when 67 people were killed.
So far, six people accused of playing various roles in the lead up to the DusitD2 attack are awaiting trial.