The CIA inadvertently gave a terrorist leader the finances and credibility he needed to mastermind a major attack, claims a former spy.
Intelligence officer Morten Storm from Denmark was asked by the CIA to build a relationship with the head of militant group Al-Shabab, the group behind September’s attack, and handed over money and equipment on behalf of Western intelligence agencies to cultivate the group’s trust.
Ikrima has been responsible for planning attacks inside Kenya for Al-Shabaab, according to CNN.
Mr Storm, told the US news channel Danish intelligence agency PET had, in March 2012, offered him one million Danish krone (£125,000) on behalf of the CIA if he could lead them to Ikrima.
The story does not disclose if he took the money and what happened in regards to offer.
Mr Storm revealed that Ikrima was the target during the unsuccessful raid by US Navy SEALs last month at an Al-Shabaab compound at Barawe on the Somali coast. Ikrima escaped.
The former informant claimed that he could have intercepted the planning of the Westgate attack, had he still been working for Western intelligence.
Mr Storm disclosed that his relationship with PET and the CIA ended in mid-2012 after a disagreement over a different mission in Yemen. This stymied advanced efforts to capture Ikrima.
“I get really frustrated to know that Ikrima had been maybe involved in the Westgate terrorist attack. It frustrates me a lot because it could have been stopped and I’m sad I can’t be involved in this,” Mr Storm told CNN.
CNN said CIA declined to comment on the claims with a spokesperson for the PET saying: “We can’t confirm or deny ever knowing Morten Storm.”
The report further cites Kenyan counter-terrorism sources as saying they believe Ikrima played a role in the Westgate attack.
He is also suspected to be behind plots targeting Kenya in the last two years, including a plot to target Kenya’s parliament in late 2011.
Mr Storm said he first made contact with Ikrima in 2008 when he met him on the first floor of Jamia shopping mall in Nairobi.
The second meeting took place in 2009 in Nairobi when Abdelkadir Warsame, a senior Al-Shabaab operative, sent Ikrima to pick up electronic equipment from Mr Storm. The equipment were meant for one of Al-Shabaab’s leaders, he said.
The former informant says Ikrima was not aware that he (Storm) was working for PET, Britain’s MI6, and the CIA.
He said tracking devices had been hidden in the equipment, which included a laptop.
The equipment, according to Storm’s Al-Shabaab handlers, was for Saleh al Nabhan, one of the senior planners of the 1998 bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi, CNN reported.
Several months later Nabhan was targeted and killed in a US Navy SEALs operation.
Storm’s Al-Shabaab contacts subsequently told him they believed Nabhan had been tracked through the electronic equipment but blamed a junior courier.
After Al-Shabaab carried out a twin suicide bombing attack in Kampala, Uganda in July 2010 Ikrima told Mr Storm it was now difficult for him to travel to meet him in Nairobi.
From then on the two kept in frequent touch through encrypted emails providing Western intelligence with real-time information on his movements and plans.
In early 2010, Mr Storm says he connected Ikrima to Anwar al Awlaki, the American-Yemeni cleric who had by then begun overseeing al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s operations against the West.
According to Mr Storm, the two then began communicating over encrypted emails.
They eventually came up with a joint plan of action to attack the West: Ikrima would send Shabaab recruits, including Westerners, to Yemen for terrorist training, and they would then be sent back to Somalia or on to the West.
“And as for going to hooks [Awlaki’s] place … then I was told by hook that they want to train brothers and then send them back or to the west,” Ikrima wrote to Storm in November 2010.
Storm believes Ikrima’s connection to Awlaki -and his delivery of equipment secretly supplied by Western intelligence – enabled Ikrima to quickly climb Al-Shabaab’s hierarchy.
The CIA would not comment on the story and PET said they could neither confirm or deny they knew Storm.