A middle-aged man from Somalia who came to Norway with his family in 2005 has emerged as the country’s first suicide bomber. Burhan Ahmed Abdule was considered a pillar of the Somalian community in the southern city of Halden, where his family settled, and once posed for a photo with the former prime minister, Jens Stoltenberg.
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported Thursday that his former friends and associates in Halden are shaken and perplexed by the news that Abdule, who suddenly disappeared in 2012, was the one driving a bomb-laden car that crashed into the Hotel Amalo in the Somalian city of Buulo Burde on March 18. The hotel housed Somalian soldiers and others who had reclaimed the city from the terrorist organization al-Shabaab. Abdule was cited in a video produced by al-Shabaab just before the attack as saying that “disbelievers (of his version of Islam) had taken over the city, but now they will get a taste of hell.”
Abdule killed himself and at least eight others in the attack, according to Norway’s police intelligence unit PST (Politiets sikkerhetstjeneste). Several fellow Somalians in Halden told NRK they’re shocked and angered by Abdule’s decision to return to Somalia and join al-Shabaab.
“The person we knew was very well-liked,” Mohammed Abdi Dahir, leader of Den somaliske foreningen (The Somalian Association) in Halden, told NRK. He said Abdule was one of the group’s founders: “People looked up to him, and to the way he conducted himself and tried to integrate into our little city.”
Acquaintances told NRK that Abdule’s family had settled in Østfold County in the spring of 2005. Even though he wasn’t good at football, he played a lot in order to meet other people in Halden. He went to the beach in the summer along with other Norwegians, liked to go cycling and went on a cycling trip in Sweden with friends. He started studying the Norwegian language during his first year in Norway. “He was always in good humour,” said Dahir.
He also became a supporter of the Norwegian Labour Party, which held government control at the time. Four years ago, he was among 30 men from Halden who visited the Parliament in Oslo and had a chance to meet then-Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg. NRK published a photo of Abdule standing right behind Stoltenberg (external link) in 2010.
He was religious and upheld prayer times, also during a work training program in which he participated in Halden. No one seemed to realize that he was becoming radical, or perhaps always was. They say he knew a lot about the Koran, and some speculate that Abdule was looking for “a great reward from Allah” and, says Ahmed Sahid, was “only thinking about the promise of jannah (paradise). But killing innocent people is not good in our religion. The prophet wants us to spread peace, not kill people.”
NRK reported that the Somalian community in Halden has had “endless discussions” about Abdule as they try to understand why he would become a suicide bomber back in the country they left. “I’m furious,” said Abdisirak Yusuf. “I never would have thought he would kill innocent people. Most of those who died were ordinary Somalians trying to earn a living.” Abdule’s family, still living in Halden, declined comment.
Stig Harle Hansen, an assistant professor and Norwegian expert on al-Shabaab, told NRK that it’s part of the organization’s conscious strategy to use suicide bombers, calling them “the poor man’s Tomahawk missile.” Hansen said it’s also part of the group’s strategy to use people from abroad as suicide bombers. “They’re usually held apart from the other (terrorists) and don’t get much long-term training,” Hansen said, adding that Abdule’s age may also have made him more expendable.