Interpol has issued an arrest notice for Samantha Lewthwaite, the British woman known as the “white widow” whose husband, Jermaine Lindsay, was one of the suicide bombers in the July 7, 2005, attack on the London transit system. Many have speculated that Lewthwaite might have been involved in the recent assault at the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, but Interpol did not associate her with the violence there:
Lewthwaite — a 29-year-old Muslim convert whose first husband was one of the suicide bombers in the 2005 attack on the London transit system that killed 52 commuters — is wanted by Kenyan authorities over alleged involvement in a plot to bomb holiday resorts there.
Social media reports that a white female was leading last week’s terrorist attack on an upscale Nairobi shopping mall — followed by comments from Kenya’s foreign minister that a British woman had been involved — led some British broadcasters and newspapers to link Lewthwaite to the recent attack on the Westgate mall, despite the lack of hard evidence that she was involved.
The Interpol notice made no mention of Westgate, however, saying that Lewthwaite is wanted on charges of possessing explosives and conspiracy to commit a felony in December 2011.
African authorities have linked her to other attacks as well — again, without presenting evidence of her involvement. She is believed to have been questioned by police once but was not taken into custody.
Dozens of civilians died in the attack on Westgate, which ended Tuesday after a four-day siege by Kenyan security personnel, and more people are likely buried in the rubble. The assault was seen as a demonstration of force by the Somali militant group al-Shabab, which has been weakened recently by internal divisions and an international military campaign in Somalia. The assault in Nairobi, as well as more violence in two Kenyan border towns this week, was retribution for Kenyan forces’ participation in that campaign, said the group’s leader, who goes by Godane. Experts say he is consolidating his control over the militia and demonstrating his ambitions:
Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr, known as Godane, is bookish, eloquent in both Arabic and Somali, recites poetry and is known to quote from obscure academic journals, analysts say. Yet he trained and fought in Afghanistan for the jihadist cause and has ruthlessly killed most of his rivals to seize control of al-Shabab, a Somali militia linked to al-Qaeda that has asserted responsibility for the mall attack.
Al-Shabab has said the attack, which began Saturday, was revenge for Kenya sending troops into Somalia. But the carnage had just as much to do with the struggles inside the militia and Godane’s desire to make al-Shabab — and himself – stronger and more relevant in the global jihad against the United States and its allies, according to analysts . . .
The four-day siege of the Westgate Premier Shopping Mall was Godane’s first major cross-border assault since he eliminated key al-Shabab leaders in the summer and solidified his grip over the militia. His ambitions appear to be as complex as his personality.
“Godane is clearly positioning himself as the next Anwar al-Awlaki — on top of his game as the head of a local al-Qaeda affiliate, and with international ambitions,” said Abdi Aynte, director of the Heritage Institute for Policy Studies, a Mogadishu-based think tank. He was referring to the Yemeni American preacher who was a key figure in al-Qaeda’s Yemen branch and was killed in a 2011 U.S. drone strike.
Lewthwaite converted to Islam as a girl, according to a BBC profile:
After the 7 July attacks, Ms Lewthwaite condemned her husband’s actions as “abhorrent”, saying trips to radical mosques had “poisoned his mind”.
“How these people could have turned him and poisoned his mind is dreadful,” she told the Sun. “He was an innocent, naive and simple man. I suppose he must have been an ideal candidate.”
But not long after the attack she disappeared . . .
Born to English soldier Andy Lewthwaite — who met and married Christine Allen while serving in Northern Ireland during the 1970s — she spent her childhood on the Whyte Acres estate in Banbridge, County Down . . .
She became friendly with a local Muslim family who helped her to convert to Islam when she was a teenager.
At the Grange School in Aylesbury, the new Muslim convert stood out, according to Novid Shaid who taught there.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s The Report last year, he said: “She seemed to be really proud wearing the hijab, there was a bubbly feeling around her.”
After a few years, “we noticed her wearing the full galabiya (full-length robe) which some converts tend to do when they become more serious,” he said.
Ms Lewthwaite’s interest in religion developed further and she enrolled in a degree course in politics and the study of religions in 2002 at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. However, she left the course after two months.
She met Jamaican-born Muslim convert Lindsay via an Islamic internet chatroom the same year and the couple married a few months later. They lived initially in Huddersfield but moved to Aylesbury in September 2003. Six months later, their first child was born. Their second child was born after the London bombings.
Watch the video below for further discussion of al-Shabab.