EXCLUSIVE: Canadian man arrested in deadly Nairobi terror attack returns home
Abdihakim Guleid sits in the living room in his rented apartment unit in Etobicoke, less than a week after returning from Kenya and what he calls one of the most harrowing experiences of his life.
The unit is mostly empty — void of any furniture, aside from a couch, dining table and a mattress still covered in plastic wrapping. But it’s a welcomed change to the Kenyan prison cell he called home for more than three weeks.
“I’m very happy to be back home and safe,” he said, while his pregnant wife and five children — ages two to nine — played in the bedroom.
“You feel scared,” said Guleid about his experience.
“You’re thinking of your family and you don’t know what will happen. Although you’re innocent, they can do anything they want. They can hold you for years without charge [and] that is what I was worried [about]. In four or five years, they can say to you, ‘You’re free, you can go now,’ after you’ve lost so much time.”
Guleid was arrested in Nairobi, Kenya, in mid-January — in relation to an attack by armed gunmen at a hotel complex in Nairobi, that left 21 people dead.
WATCH: Social media video shows smoke rising from scene of Kenya hotel attack (Jan. 15, 2019)
Masked gunmen, claiming to be part of the Somalian militant group, Al-Shabaab, stormed into the DusitD2 compound on the afternoon of Jan. 15. Their siege lasted hours, ending Wednesday morning after all five attackers had been “eliminated.”
In an exclusive interview with Global News, Guleid is now explaining his side of the story that got him listed as a suspect in the deadly attack.
Kenyan court documents show that Guleid was arrested because he was allegedly using a cellphone that received a call from one of the attackers.
But Guleid claims it was all a misunderstanding that began when he went to the Canadian embassy in Nairobi to submit some immigration documents on Tuesday, the day the attack started.
He claims that he left the documents in the taxi on the ride from his home to the embassy — and when he tried to use his cellphone with a temporary SIM card, he realized that he had left the passcode for the SIM card at home.
“One young guy, I asked him if I can use his phone and he said, ‘OK, you can use it,'” said Guleid. “I called my wife first, she did not answer. Then, I call the grocery guy who delivered our food every month and he sent me the number of our taxi driver. And that’s the only reason they arrested me.”
Guleid does’t believe he did anything criminal and believes he was targeted because he is a Somalian in Kenya. He added that the man he borrowed the phone from also did not seem suspicious.
“This guy was normal, just a guy like you and me.”
Guleid claims Kenyan authorities barged into his home that following Wednesday morning — and arrested him without a detailed explanation.
“They just came to my home and they arrested me. They never told me anything. They just took me to the police station,” said Guleid. “I would never think something like that would happen to me.”
WATCH: Toronto man arrested in connection with Kenyan terror attack (January 2019)
Guleid appeared in court that Friday with five other people, suspected of helping the attackers in the deadly siege. The fearful expression on his face, was shared widely across the world and in his home country of Canada, where he had lived for more than 20 years.
Guleid is a Canadian citizen, but his wife and kids live in Nairobi. He said he’s been travelling back and forth between the two countries for the past decade to visit them.
But this past year, he said his family had their Canadian permanent residency approved and he had planned a trip to Nairobi for five days to pick them up and bring them to their new home in Toronto, before he was arrested.
The judge ordered the suspects be held for 30 days, while Kenyan authorities investigate the attack on the high-end shopping and hotel complex.
Guleid said all he could do was hope, while he sat in his prison cell.
“I knew I was innocent and that it was only a matter of days before I go free,” said Guleid.
“Because I know, if you’re innocent, one day you’re going to be free.”
Guleid said he was in jail for a little over three weeks and, with the help of a lawyer, was released Feb. 8. Court documents show that Guleid “can be released unconditionally,” but did not further detail the reasoning behind his release.
Guleid said it took about a month to get his family’s documents and belongings in order before flying to Canada, which is why they arrived to Toronto in early March.
WATCH: Brother of Canadian arrested in connection with Nairobi terror attack says family has hired lawyer (January 2019)
In response to detailed questions about Canada’s role in Guleid’s release and why he was arrested, Global Affairs Canada told Global News that it “is aware that a Canadian citizen arrested in Kenya has been released and has returned to Canada. Canadian officials provided consular services to the individual and his family.”
Global News reached out to Kenyan authorities and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution but did not receive a response in time for this story’s publication.
Meanwhile, Guleid said he just hopes he can live a normal life from here onward and is looking forward to having his family in the same country.
“I didn’t miss this weather,” he said, laughing. “But I did miss home.”
© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.