How does a boy from a seaside town in Norway end up a terrorist in Kenya?

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Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman. This is The World. Let's break a misconception: You might think a childhood in a quiet, prosperous, western democracy would be enough to dissuade a young man from signing up to wage Jihad. Think again. Kenyan authorities say one of the gunman who laid siege at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi last month grew up in a small coastal town in Norway. 23 year-old Hassan Abdi Dhuhulow was reportedly identified in video footage of the attack, ruthlessly gunning down shoppers. Today, officials in Oslo admitted they'd had suspicions about the young Somali immigrant and they said they even tried to talk him out of his plans to join a militant group in Somalia. BBC's Gabriel Gatehouse visited Dhuhulow's hometown, Larvic, Norway, and talked with members of the suspected gunman's family. They say he called them from Somalia as late as last summer.

Gabriel Gatehouse: Now, his family are under intense pressure, but they said that after Hassan left Norway in 2009 for his first visit to Somalia and then permanently in 2010, he kept in touch only sporadically, that he would call them at odd times of the day, only infrequently, once every few months ago, and always from different Somali mobile numbers and they, they didn't have an awful lot of contact with him until the last call, which was, they remembered, last summer. They were a little unclear about which month. They variously said June, July or August, but they said that he told them he was in trouble, that he'd lost his passport, that he'd given it to a trusted friend who wouldn't give it back, that he said he was in trouble and he wanted to come home.

Werman: Well, the pressure may have gotten even higher on the family today because there's news out of Norway that security officials now say Dhuhulow was well known to them and they met with him several times in Norway and even tried to convince him not to join Al-Shabaab. Let's listen to what the head of Norwegian Police Security Services had to say. Her name is Marie Benedicte Bjoernland.

Marie Benedicte Bjoernland: We did an extensive preventive work towards him. I can't comment on the details, but I can say that we conducted several meetings with him and had preventive talks with him. The result was that he continued his plan and left Norway. We didn't succeed.

Werman: I mean, it sounds, Gabriel Gatehouse, like Norwegian authorities kind of new something was up. Why didn't they stop him from leaving the country again?

Gatehouse: Yes, I suppose that's a good question. I would imagine, and I am speculating here, that in the absence of anything concrete on him and he was never convicted or charged with anything as far as we know in Norway, in the absence of anything like that, he was a Norwegian citizen and, presumably, free to travel wherever he liked. That said, on the broader picture of people being radicalized in Norway, especially in the Somali community, people who are in the know say they believe that between 20-30 Norwegian citizens, almost all of Somalia origin, have gone to Somalia to join Al-Shabaab in one capacity or another and, in fact, two weeks after the Westgate attack, US Navy Seals carried out an abortive raid on a hide out in Somalia and the man they were after, I understand, is a guy who goes by the name Ikrima whose real name is Abdulkadir Mohamed and he's believed to be one of Al-Shabaab's most senior operatives and we also know that he spent approximately four years in Norway seeking asylum between 2004 and 2008.

Werman: You know, Gabriel, I have to say, looking at the images of this very sleepy Scandinavian town where Dhuhulow grew up, it's hard to imagine being further away from Somalia. It's just so incongruous. Although, perhaps, not too different from a young Czechen moving to Cambridge, Massachusetts and going off the rails. Did you get that sense of implausibility? I mean, how did that strike you there in little Larvic.

Gatehouse: It was extremely odd because it's a really beautiful, picturesque, quintessentially, Nordic, Norwegian kind of a place. It's on the sea, it's got a little harbor, the houses, which run up and down quite steep hills, are mostly made of white clapboard, as you say, it's a sleepy, sleepy place. It's a million miles away in every sense from the ravages of Somalia's twenty year long civil war, the anarchy, the failed state, if you like. This is Norway, an incredibly together state, an incredibly liberal country, which, quite frankly, works and it is very odd to imagine what a young Somali boy at the impressionable age of nine would make of moving there and from that vantage point, watching on the internet, keeping in touch with what was going on back home and what kind of things that must have done to his psyche.

Werman: BBC's Gabriel Gatehouse sharing the story of a Norwegian of Somali origin who is believed to be one of the assailant's in the Nairobi mall siege last month. Gabriel, good to speak with you. Thanks.

Gatehouse: Always a pleasure.