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Charred bodies from Kenya mall 'highly likely' to be gunmen: lawmaker

Kenya Defence Forces soldiers take their position at the Westgate shopping centre, on the fourth day since militants stormed into the mall,
Kenya Defence Forces soldiers take their position at the Westgate shopping centre, on the fourth day since militants stormed into the mall,

By Richard Lough and Joachim Dagenborg

NAIROBI/OSLO (Reuters) - Two charred bodies recovered from Nairobi's Westgate shopping mall are highly likely to be two of the gunmen who killed dozens of people last month in one of the worst militant strikes on Kenyan soil, a lawmaker probing the attack said on Friday.

Norway said its suspicion that a Norwegian citizen was one of those involved in the mall assault claimed by the Somali Islamist group Al Shabaab had now "strengthened". The BBC has identified one of the attackers as a 23-year-old Norwegian citizen of Somali origin named Hassan Abdi Dhuhulow.

A Western official close to the investigation confirmed Dhuhulow's name was among those investigators were looking at, and a senior Kenyan official said he was discussed at a security meeting in Nairobi last week.

Ndung'u Gethenji, head of parliament's Defence and Foreign Relations Committee, said the corpses had been pulled from under rubble on Thursday in a part of the mall which had collapsed.

"All the indications are that they are the attackers," Gethenji told Reuters. "The area they were excavating is consistent with the area (the gunmen) were trapped in during the operation."

Automatic AK-47 rifles of a model not used by Kenyan security forces and a rocket-propelled grenade were found close to the two bodies, said Gethenji, who is co-chairing a parliamentary investigation into possible intelligence failures.

Dramatic CCTV footage that has just emerged showing the first day of the four-day stand-off with Kenyan security forces shows four gunmen calmly shooting panicking shoppers as others hide behind pillars or scramble along the floor towards exits.

At one point, a gunman walks up to a wounded man bleeding heavily as he tries to pull himself to safety and shoots him at close range, apparently killing him. The attackers are also seen taking turns to pray in what looks to be a store room.

Almost a month after the Westgate attack, Gethenji said it was still unclear if more gunmen than the four seen in the CCTV footage had been involved in the attacks. Kenyan authorities initially said up to 15 militants took part in the assault with automatic weapons and grenades but Gethenji said six was more likely.

"UNDER THE RADAR"

Norway's police security service, PST, on Friday declined to confirm or deny Dhuhulow was one of the attackers.

Former classmates at the high school he attended in the small Norwegian town of Larvik, about 130 kilometers (82.5 miles) south of the capital Oslo, recalled Dhuhulow as a deeply religious teenager who took his prayer mat to school each day.

"He was a little weird and usually stayed under the radar," one classmate at the Thor Heyerdahl school told Reuters, preferring not to give his name. But Dhuhulow had appeared ambitious and got good grades, the classmate said.

Another contemporary said Dhuhulow had openly supported the killing of U.S. troops on foreign battlefields.

"He became very religious in the period between middle school and high school and was very conservative," the second classmate said. "I remember that he prayed five times a day and during school hours."

The corpses of the two suspected gunmen will now be subjected to detailed forensic investigations, Gethenji added.

In the absence of confirmed identities for the gunmen, investigators have been referring to them as "pink shirt", "white shirt", "black shirt" and "blue shirt".

Al Shabaab have said they carried out the mall attack because the Kenyan government had ignored its warnings to pull peacekeeping troops out of Somalia.

Uganda, which also has troops in Somalia, warned on Friday of a possible "imminent terror attack" on its territory. Al Shabaab attacked Uganda in 2010 in a twin bombing.

(Additional reporting by Joseph Akwiri in Mombasa; Writing by Richard Lough; editing by Barry Moody)

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