JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- A Somali-born Norwegian said to be a suspect in a deadly assault on a Kenyan shopping mall was described Friday by former classmates and others who knew him as an observant Muslim who struggled to fit in after his family fled their troubled homeland.
Norway’s TV-2 reported that 23-year-old Hassan Abdi Dhuhulow posted statements online when he was 16 indicating that he wanted to go back to Somalia to fight with the Shabab, the militant group that claims responsibility for last month’s attack. But he apparently concealed this wish from his Norwegian classmates.
"He seemed pretty conservative for his age, but there were never any problems with him," an unidentified former classmate told the station.
A woman who also knew Dhuhulow as a teenager said he didn't express extreme views.
"I noticed that he started bringing a prayer rug to school. He gave a lecture on Islam for an hour, but didn´t seem as extreme as it appears now," she told TV-2.
Others said he painted a rosy picture of life in Somalia, playing down the violence.
A former classmate interviewed by Reuters news agency said Dhuhulow 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 classmate was quoted as saying. “I remember that he prayed five times a day and during school hours.”
Dhuhulow arrived in Norway in 1999, the BBC reported. He and his family entered the country as refugees and settled in the town of Larvik. A decade later, he returned to Somalia, a relative of the young man told the British broadcaster.
Relatives told the BBC that Dhuhulow made "infrequent, increasingly erratic phone calls to the family ... the last one coming in the summer, when he said that he was in trouble and wanted to return home."
"I don't know what I feel or think,” one relative was quoted as saying. “If it is him, he must have been brainwashed."
Another relative interviewed by the Norwegian broadcaster NRK denied that the man in the video was Dhuhulow.
Dhuhulow was unhappy in Norway, according to a former neighbor interviewed by the BBC.
“He was pretty extreme, didn't like life in Norway … got into trouble, fights, his father was worried," Morten Henriksen was quoted as saying.
Norwegian media reported that Dhuhulow, who became a Norwegian citizen, held various jobs, including one with a courier company. He is still registered in the Ostlandet region of southeast Norway.
Dhuhulow has used more than 10 online aliases since 2006 and had been under surveillance by Norwegian security because of his Internet activity and suspected links to a radical group in Norway called the Prophet’s Ummah, according to the television report.
At one time he used an image of an Al Qaeda leader as his profile picture, and at another, a suicide bomber, the report said. He also identified with Muslim fighters in Bosnia, posting videos of those killed in battle, the station said.
In 2008, Dhuhulow’s user profile was linked to a Shabab website used to recruit foreign fighters. The site was shut down the following year, according to TV-2. He was also said to be active in a Shabab Web forum.
TV-2 also reported that a Shabab leader targeted by U.S. Navy SEALs in an unsuccessful Oct. 5 raid went to Norway in 2004 and lived there for four years. Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdulkadir, also known as Ikrima, reportedly applied for asylum in Norway but left before a decision about his case was made.
The television station published several photographs purporting to show Abdulkadir during his time in Norway. It was not clear whether he ever come into contact there with Dhuhulow.
Times staff writer Dixon reported from Johannesburg and special correspondent Sandels reported from Stockholm.