- Associated Press - Monday, November 11, 2013

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — One of the four Westgate Mall attackers once lived in a refugee camp of 50,000 Somali refugees in northwestern Kenya, two security officials said, highlighting Kenya’s interest in speeding up the return of nearly 500,000 Somali refugees to their home country.

Very little is known about the four gunmen who sprayed bullets into men, women and children inside Nairobi’s Westgate Mall on Sept. 21, a busy Saturday afternoon. Al-Shabab, a Somali Islamic extremist group affiliated with al Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the four-day siege of the mall, which killed 67 people.

One mall attack suspect has been identified as Hassan Abdi Dhuhulow, a 23-year-old Somalia native whose family moved to Norway in 1999. Court documents revealed a second name last week — Mohammed Abdinur Said — that an official confirmed was the name of another attacker.

A Kenyan security official told The Associated Press that Mr. Said once lived in the Kakuma refugee camp, a camp run by the United Nations refugee agency, known as UNHCR, that houses 101,000 refugees, including 54,00 Somalis.

The security official insisted on anonymity to share information not yet made public. A second security official investigating the attack told AP that more than one attacker passed through Kakuma camp.

The head of UNHCR in Kenya, Raouf Mazou, told AP on Monday that his organization has been cooperating with the Kenyan government on the Westgate investigation but said he was “not aware of any specific case and not the name that you mentioned.”

Kenyan officials long have been concerned about security inside the major refugee camps it houses, including Kakuma and a much larger camp near the Somali border called Dadaab, where 388,000 Somalis live.

The agreement signed Sunday between Kenya, Somalia and UNHCR says that the 475,000 registered Somali refugees inside Kenya will get support when they return to their homeland — if they choose to return.

Kenya in 2011 mounted a military campaign inside Somalia largely to address insecurity on that side of the border and set the conditions for the return of the nearly a half-million refugees.

Mr. Mazou said that UNHCR has supported the government in its efforts to increase security inside the U.N. camps. In the past several years the camps, particularly Dadaab, have been hit by a spate of blasts by grenades and other improvised explosive devices.

“Clearly there was some insecurity in the camps,” Mr. Mazou said. “Things have improved since Kenyan security has been able to deploy additional personnel in the Dadaab area.”

Kenya has hosted refugees for more than two decades, and the aim of the new agreement is to see Somalis return so they can “participate in the development of their country,” said the permanent secretary for Kenya’s Interior Ministry, Mutea Iringo, on a Kenyan TV station on Sunday.

“Of course one of the challenges we faced over time was security … the country was experiencing a lot of attacks by the terrorists in the northeast coast and Nairobi,” Mr. Iringo told Citizen TV. “The government decided to intervene in Somalia … and currently we are assured once they are repatriated, we will be able to minimize the incidents of insecurity to a large extent.”

Mr. Iringo said that all the returns would be voluntary and that 80,000 Somalis already have returned. The UNHCR, however, said the number is likely lower, as it has recorded approximately 35,000 returns.

Mr. Iringo said Kenya will continue to honor international obligations concerning refugees.

The United Nations does not think Kenya is forcing Somalis to return home against their will, Mr. Mazou said.

“This agreement is not about Kenya telling people to leave but about encouraging the international community to do more in south-central Somalia, where these refugees come from,” Mr. Mazou said.

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