A Northern Ireland woman is being sought for questioning by police over a suspected Islamic bombing campaign in east Africa.
Samantha Lewthwaite, who was married to one of the 7/7 London bombers, is suspected of being part of a cell affiliated to al-Shabaab, an al-Qaida-linked group in Somalia, that planned to mount a series of attacks on the Kenyan coastal resort of Mombasa last Christmas.
The 28-year-old, who spent part of her childhood in the Whyte Acres estate in Banbridge, has been on the run with her three children since anti-terrorist officers in Nairobi swooped on the terror gang.
It is thought she fled Kenya after being tipped off about the police raid last December.
Samantha changed her name to Sherafiyah after converting to Islam, aged 17, and was married to Jermaine Lindsay who detonated the bomb at London’s King’s Cross Tube station, killing 26 people in July 2005.
At the time she said that she was horrified by the massacre.
Her mother Christine is originally from Banbridge and married British soldier Andy Lewthwaite while he was serving in Northern Ireland in the 1970s.
Kenyan police believe Lewthwaite has been using a number of identities, including a fake passport to pose as South African Natalie Faye Webb.
Eric Kiraithe, a Kenyan police spokesman, told the Times: “We know quite a bit about her now. She has had three identities in the past and that (Samantha Lewthwaite) is one possible identity.”
The Kenyan authorities have been working closely with London’s Metropolitan Police which has sent a team of detectives from its Counter-Terrorism Command to assist with the investigation.
The suspect may have escaped across the Kenyan border into Somalia. However, attempts are also being made to locate her in Britain.
A spokesman for the Met said: “We continue to liaise with the Kenyan authorities on this matter.”
The police say they cannot confirm the woman they are searching for is Ms Lewthwaite unless and until she is captured.
Her England-based father Andy said he had not been in contact with her for some time but could not believe she would be involved in an international bomb plot.
“After 7/7 happened, I asked her several times if she knew it was going to happen and she always told me she didn’t know.
“I cannot believe she would be involved in something like this and be there with the children,” he told The Times.
“We have not had any contact with her for some time, I haven’t spoken to her for a long time. I don’t know if she’s in this country or where she is. I don’t even know the name of her latest child.”
The Home Office said it could not comment on whether Ms Lewthwaite, who is not thought to have any convictions, was on any terrorism watchlists which might have alerted the authorities if she left the country.
A spokesman for the PSNI said: “If we are asked to help with this investigation, we will.”
By John Mulgrew
In Banbridge yesterday most residents were unaware they were once neighbours of Samantha Lewthwaite — the daughter of a local woman now being hunted by Kenyan police investigating a suspected terror plot.
The 28-year-old had at one time lived in the Whyte Acres estate after moving there with her mother Christine Allen and father Andrew Lewthwaite.
Speaking to several neighbours in the estate, many of them were unaware of the international news story unfolding in their midst.
Residents living in the area for decades as well as young families said they were both shocked and baffled at the details surrounding Ms Lewthwaite’s alleged connections with the suspected terror plot. But one man living a short distance away told the Belfast Telegraph that the 28-year-old had once lived at his house before he moved in — back in the 1990s.
He said she was “dead-on” and that “there was no harm in her”, adding he truly could not believe the shocking allegations.