Edmonton taxi driver Guled Yussuf was shocked by what he saw on TV at a Checkers Pizza: his old friend from Fort McMurray, arrested in connection with a terror attack in Africa.
Canadian Abdihakim Guleid, 46, has been detained in Kenya. Authorities suspect he may have helped attackers in a deadly Jan. 15 assault on a hotel in Nairobi that killed at least 21 people.
According to court documents, authorities killed the attackers, who stormed the complex with gunfire and grenade bombing.
Guleid was one of six people initially arrested after the attack. On Monday, the Associated Press reported that four more people suspected of helping the attackers appeared in court.
“I was surprised it was this guy [arrested],” Yussuf said. “It’s like things that you can’t even believe.
“He was the last guy that I would think would do or be accused of something like this.”
Yussuf met Guleid about six years ago at a Flying J truck stop in Fort McMurray. They were both truck drivers — Yussuf in an oil camp and Guleid with a gravel company. They spoke Somali together and became friends, Yussuf said.
Guleid’s Canadian passport was issued in Edmonton.
CBC obtained a photocopy of his Class 1 Alberta driver’s licence, which said he lived in Fort McMurray. The licence expired in 2017.
Yussuf said he hasn’t been in touch with Guleid since 2015. Over the years, Guleid would text Yussuf to ask about work opportunities after he would come back from visiting his wife and family living in Kenya every year.
“[He was] a very quiet guy, a family man. He used to talk about his family a lot. He used to talk about how he could get ahead in life financially. Things like that,” Yussuf said.
“But he wasn’t the kind of guy that was religious. Politics and all kind of stuff like that, he never used to be interested in all that. So I was having a hard time believing he’s going through this ordeal.”
Guleid eventually moved back to Ontario after he struggled to find trucking jobs in Alberta, his brother said.
No charges against Guleid
Guleid appeared in Nairobi court Jan. 18, the same day Yussuf saw his face on TV, but he has not been charged with anything to date.
A judge ordered that suspects be held for 30 days while authorities investigate the attack.
Al-Shabaab, a group linked to al-Qaeda and based in neighbouring Somalia, claimed responsibility for the attack.
The attack was denounced in Eastleigh, a Nairobi neighbourhood that is home to many ethnic Somalis and has been targeted in massive police operations against suspected extremist cells. Shop owners temporarily closed businesses to protest extremism, and crowds gathered.
Guleid’s brother Abdul said authorities came to Eastleigh to arrest Abdihakim at his family’s home.
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Noordin Haji, director of public prosecutions in Nairobi, previously told CBC News authorities are investigating a phone call Guleid allegedly received from one of the attackers.
Guleid alleges the phone is registered to his wife, Haji said. After the phone call, Guleid is alleged to have texted a phone number “and that’s what we are investigating,” Haji said.
Abdul Guleid maintains that his brother is innocent. He said his brother was visiting his wife so she could come back to Canada with him.
“Ever since he came to this country he was law abiding. I don’t think he even has a traffic ticket,” Abdul said.
“They’re saying, ‘Canadian terrorist suspect’ — that doesn’t quite fit my brother. Absolutely, it doesn’t fit. He doesn’t have a bone in his body that would support such a heinous crime.
“We will work to clear his name.”
Abdul also said the family has hired a lawyer in Kenya to represent his brother.
Abdul said Global Affairs Canada called him Monday to tell him consular services staff have visited his brother and that he seemed in good spirits. Abdul said Guleid’s wife has visited him since he’s being detained, and that authorities said he could receive medications he requested.
Stephanie Carvin, a security specialist from Carleton University in Ottawa, previously told CBC News that Kenyan investigators are looking for any and all connections. Carvin said it is “not at all surprising” that Kenyan authorities would cast a wide net due to the aggressive reputation of the country’s intelligence services.
Andy Knight, a political science professor at the University of Alberta who researches extremist terrorism, said it’s possible a Canadian citizen could have links to al-Shabaab and provide material support, even if the person wasn’t involved in the attack itself or had never previously been involved with a terrorist act.
Knight said investigators in Kenya would look at apprehending people that could have any link to attackers, including friends or family, before charging suspects.
Yussuf said his initial reaction when he learned Guleid had been detained was that it is easy to be under suspicion as a Muslim Somali in Kenya.
“I thought that in general, as a Muslim Somali going around and there is terror if you are around the area, unless you hide or run away, you’ll be the suspect in general,” he said.
“So then I said, ‘Oh man, that [guy] was at the wrong time in the wrong place. That’s what I was thinking myself.”