Belfast Telegraph

Monday 29 December 2014

Kenya: Friends and family of Co Down raised White Widow 'shocked' at link to terror attack

Heavy smoke rises from the Westgate Mall in Nairobi Kenya Monday Sept. 23 2013. Multiple large blasts have rocked the mall where a hostage siege is in its third day. Associated Press reporters on the scene heard multiple blasts and a barrage of gunfire. Security forces have been attempting to rescue an unknown number of hostages inside the mall held by al-Qaida-linked terrorists. (AP Photo/ Jerome Delay)
Heavy smoke rises from the Westgate Mall in Nairobi Kenya Monday Sept. 23 2013
Kenya security personnel take cover outside the Westgate Mall after shooting started inside the mall early Monday morning, Sept. 23, 2013
Kenyan security personnel and journalists duck behind a vehicle as heavy gunfire erupts from the Westgate Mall in Nairobi Kenya Monday Sept. 23 2013
An armored personnel carrier drives through the car park towards the main entrance of the Westgate Mall as large explosions and heavy gunfire are heard in Nairobi, Kenya Monday, Sept. 23, 2013
A helicopte and birds fly above as a plume of black smoke billows rising over the Westgate Mall, following large explosions and heavy gunfire, in Nairobi, Kenya Monday, Sept. 23, 2013
Kenyan police officers dive for cover as large explosions and heavy gunfire are heard from the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya Monday, Sept. 23, 2013
Local and foreign television crews line up behind a police cordon at the end of a street leading to the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya Monday, Sept. 23, 2013. Hostages being held by al-Qaida-linked terrorists in a Nairobi mall have not been released despite an earlier statement from the military that "most" had been rescued, a person connected to the situation told The Associated Press on Monday. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)
Samantha Lewthwaite with Jermaine Lindsay
'White Widow': Lewthwaite and another al-Qaida suspect in the photo taken at the Kenyan border
Samantha Lewthwaite
Armed police from the General Service Unit take cover behind a wall during a bout of gunfire, outside the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya Monday, Sept. 23, 2013. Hostages being held by al-Qaida-linked terrorists in a Nairobi mall have not been released despite an earlier statement from the military that "most" had been rescued, a person connected to the situation told The Associated Press on Monday. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)
Paramedics run outside the Westgate Mall in Nairobi after heavy shooting started Monday, Sept. 23, 2013. Kenya's military launched a major operation at the upscale Nairobi mall and said it had rescued "most" of the hostages being held captive by al-Qaida-linked militants during the standoff. (AP Photo/Sayyid Azim)
Kenya security personnel ask journalists to clear the area and not to take pictures outside the Westgate Mall after firing started inside the mall in Nairobi, Kenya, Monday, Sept. 23, 2013. Kenya's military launched a major operation at the upscale Nairobi mall and said it had rescued "most" of the hostages being held captive by al-Qaida-linked militants during the standoff that killed at least 68 people and injured 175. (AP Photo/Sayyid Azim)
Kenya security forces are seen behind a wall outside the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya Monday morning, Sept. 23, 2013. Kenya's military launched a major operation at the upscale Nairobi mall and said it had rescued "most" of the hostages being held captive by al-Qaida-linked militants during the standoff that killed at least 68 people and injured 175. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
Kenya Securiy personnel take cover outside the Westgate Mall after firing started inside the mall, Monday, Sept. 23, 2013. Kenya's military launched a major operation at the upscale Nairobi mall and said it had rescued "most" of the hostages being held captive by al-Qaida-linked militants during the standoff that killed at least 68 people and injured 175. (AP Photo/Sayyid Azim)
Armed police leave after entering the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013. Gunmen threw grenades and opened fire Saturday in an attack targeting non-Muslims at an upscale mall in Kenya's capital thatwas hosting a children's day event, a Red Cross official and witnesses said. Photo by Jonathan Kalan
A body, left, lies outside the Westgate Mall, an upscale shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya Saturday amid an ongoing terror attack
A security officer helps a wounded woman outside the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, after gunmen threw grenades and opened fire during an attack that left multiple dead and dozens wounded.
Security officers help a wounded woman outside the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, after gunmen threw grenades and opened fire during an attack that left multiple dead and dozens wounded. A witness to the attacks on the upscale shopping mall says that gunmen told Muslims to stand up and leave and that non-Muslims would be targeted. (AP Photo/Khalil Senosi)
A body is carried by medical personnel outside the Westgate Mall, an upscale shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya Saturday Sept. 21 2013, where shooting erupted when armed men attempted to rob a shop, according to police. Witnesses say a half dozen grenades also went off along with volleys of gunfire in and around the mall. (AP Photo/Sayyid Azim)
A body, left, lies outside the Westgate Mall, an upscale shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya Saturday Sept. 21 2013, where shooting erupted when armed men attempted to rob a shop, according to police. Witnesses say a half dozen grenades also went off along with volleys of gunfire in and around the mall. (AP Photo/Sayyid Azim)
A woman's body is removed from the car by the Kenya Red Cross outside the Westgate Mall,an upscale shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya Saturday Sept. 21 2013, where shooting erupted when armed men attempted to rob a shop, according to police. Witnesses say a half dozen grenades also went off along with volleys of gunfire in and around the mall. (AP Photo/Sayyid Azim)
Bodies lie outside an upscale shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya Saturday Sept. 21 2013, where shooting erupted when armed men attempted to rob a shop, according to police. Witnesses say a half dozen grenades also went off along with volleys of gunfire in and around the mall. (AP Photo/ Jason Straziuso)
An injured man is trreated outside an upscale shopping mall, seen background, in Nairobi, Kenya Saturday Sept. 21 2013, where shooting erupted when armed men attempted to rob a shop, according to police. Witnesses say a half dozen grenades also went off along with lobbies of gunfire that started at midday. (AP Photo/ Jason Straziuso)
A soldier moves to take up a position outside an upscale shopping mall, seen background, in Nairobi, Kenya Saturday Sept. 21 2013, where shooting erupted when armed men attempted to rob a shop, according to police. Witnesses say a half dozen grenades also went off along with lobbies of gunfire that started at midday. (AP Photo/ Jason Straziuso)
Trucks of soldiers from the Kenya Defense Forces arrive after dawn outside the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya Sunday, Sept. 22, 2013. Islamic extremist gunmen lobbed grenades and fired assault rifles inside Nairobi's top mall Saturday, killing dozens and wounding over a hundred in the attack. Early Sunday morning, 12 hours after the attack began, gunmen remained holed up inside the mall with an unknown number of hostages. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)
Kenya security personnel move to take their positions outside a shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, Sunday, Sept. 22, 2013. Kenya authorities said Islamic extremist attackers remain inside the upscale Kenyan shopping mall, holding an unknown number of hostages, after killing at least 39 and injuring 150 in the Saturday's attack. (AP Photo/Sayyid Azim)
An armed police officer takes cover during a bout of gunfire outside the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013. Gunmen threw grenades and opened fire Saturday killing at least 22 people in an attack targeting non-Muslims at an upscale mall in Kenya's capital that was hosting a children's day event, a Red Cross official and witnesses said. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)
Groups of onlookers gather on a road looking down over the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya Sunday, Sept. 22, 2013. Multiple barrages of gunfire erupted Sunday morning from the upscale Kenyan mall where there is a hostage standoff with Islamic extremists nearly 24 hours after they attacked using grenades and assault rifles. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)
Kenya Defense forces personnel take their positions outside a shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, Sunday, Sept. 22, 2013. Kenya authorities said Islamic extremist attackers remain inside the upscale Kenyan shopping mall, holding an unknown number of hostages, after killing at least 39 and injuring 150 during the Saturday's attack. (AP Photo/Sayyid Azim)
Kenya security personnel walk to their positions outside a shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, Sunday, Sept. 22, 2013. Kenya authorities said Islamic extremist attackers remain inside the upscale Kenyan shopping mall, holding an unknown number of hostages, after killing at least 39 and injuring 150 during the Saturday's attack. (AP Photo/Sayyid Azim)
Kenya security personnel move to their positions as others stand guard outside a shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, Sunday, Sept. 22, 2013. Kenya authorities said Islamic extremist attackers remain inside the upscale Kenyan shopping mall, holding an unknown number of hostages, after killing at least 39 and injuring 150 during the Saturday's attack. (AP Photo/Sayyid Azim)
Trucks of soldiers from the Kenya Defense Forces arrive after dawn outside the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya Sunday, Sept. 22, 2013.
Civilians who had been hiding during the gun battle hold their hands in the air as a precautionary measure before being searched by armed police leading them to safety, inside the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013. Gunmen threw grenades and opened fire Saturday, killing at least 22 people in an attack targeting non-Muslims at an upscale mall in Kenya's capital that was hosting a children's day event, a Red Cross official and witnesses said. (AP Photo/Jonathan Kalan)
A body is seen on the floor, below right, as smoke fills the air inside the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013. Gunmen threw grenades and opened fire Saturday, killing at least 22 people in an attack targeting non-Muslims at an upscale mall in Kenya's capital that was hosting a children's day event, a Red Cross official and witnesses said. (AP Photo/Jonathan Kalan)
Armed police take cover behind escalators as smoke fills the air inside the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013. Gunmen threw grenades and opened fire Saturday, killing at least 22 people in an attack targeting non-Muslims at an upscale mall in Kenya's capital that was hosting a children's day event, a Red Cross official and witnesses said. (AP Photo/Jonathan Kalan)
Civilians who had been hiding inside during gunbattles manage to flee from the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013. Gunmen threw grenades and opened fire Saturday killing at least 22 people in an attack targeting non-Muslims at an upscale mall in Kenya's capital that was hosting a children's day event, a Red Cross official and witnesses said. (AP Photo/Jonathan Kalan)
Civilians who had been hiding inside during the gun battle manage to flee from the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013. Gunmen threw grenades and opened fire Saturday, killing at least 22 people in an attack targeting non-Muslims at an upscale mall in Kenya's capital that was hosting a children's day event, a Red Cross official and witnesses said. (AP Photo/Jonathan Kalan)
An armed police officer takes cover during a bout of gunfire outside the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013. Gunmen threw grenades and opened fire Saturday killing at least 22 people in an attack targeting non-Muslims at an upscale mall in Kenya's capital that was hosting a children's day event, a Red Cross official and witnesses said. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)
A rescue worker helps a child outside the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, after gunmen threw grenades and opened fire during an attack that left multiple dead and dozens wounded. A witness to the attacks on the upscale shopping mall says that gunmen told Muslims to stand up and leave and that non-Muslims would be targeted. (AP Photo/Khalil Senosi)
The mother and a security guard help a child outside the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya Saturday, Sept. 21 2013, after gunmen threw grenades and opened fire during an attack that left multiple dead and dozens wounded. A witness to the attacks on the upscale shopping mall says that gunmen told Muslims to stand up and leave and that non-Muslims would be targeted. (AP Photo/Khalil Senosi)
Armed special forces aim their weapons at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, after gunmen threw grenades and opened fire during an attack that left multiple dead and dozens wounded. A witness to the attacks on the upscale shopping mall says that gunmen told Muslims to stand up and leave and that non-Muslims would be targeted. (AP Photo/Khalil Senosi)

The friends and family of the Co Down raised White Widow Samantha Lewthwaite have reacted with shock and disbelief to claims that she is behind the Kenyan shopping mall massacre.

Speculation is rife that the terror suspect, who was married to the July 7 suicide bomber Jermaine Lindsay, was one of the masterminds behind the atrocity which has claimed more than 60 lives.

Dubbed the White Widow, Lewthwaite is wanted in connection with an atrocity in Kenya, her alleged role in bomb-making factories and terrorist activity in Yemen.

Born to a British soldier from England and a Northern Irish Catholic mother, Lewthwaite spent her early years in the family's home in Banbridge's Whyte Acres estate.

The claims caused Lewthwaite's frail grandmother to be taken to hospital in Northern Ireland, while those who knew her growing up in Aylesbury said they were "astonished and amazed".

Known as the White Widow, the 29-year-old mother-of-three is the daughter of English soldier Andy Lewthwaite, who met and married Irish Catholic Christine Allen while serving in Northern Ireland during the 1970s.

GN31023W.jpg

She enjoyed an unremarkable childhood in Banbridge, Co Down, before moving to Aylesbury at a young age. In 1995 her parents split.

After converting to Islam at 17, Lewthwaite changed her name to Sherafiyah and married Lindsay, who detonated the bomb at King's Cross Tube station, killing 26 people in July 2005.

At the time she claimed to have been horrified by the killings, but in 2009 disappeared with her three children and only resurfaced two years later after travelling to Kenya on a false passport.

Kenya's foreign minister, Amina Mohamed, has fuelled further speculation by claiming a British woman who has allegedly been involved in terrorism "many times before" was among the militants who laid siege to the Westgate mall, leaving at least six Britons dead.

As Lewthwaite's global notoriety peaked, the shockwaves reached Banbridge, where Lewthwaite's grandmother, Elizabeth Allen, was taken to hospital.

Family friends said the pressure of the situation has taken its toll on the pensioner's health and mental well-being.

She had been given a panic alarm to contact security services in case the terror suspect made contact.

Joan Baird, a veteran Ulster Unionist councillor in Banbridge who knows the family, said: "This is so distressing for everyone. Mrs Allen is 85 and she is in and out of hospital. It is just so distressing."

In Aylesbury there was disbelief that the "average, British, young, ordinary girl" who was a "follower not a leader" could have gone on to mastermind extremist acts.

Councillor Raj Khan, who knew Lewthwaite socially, said she was "pleasant and courteous" and had a "very great personality" but lacked confidence.

"She was not strong-headed. And that's why I find it absolutely amazing that she is supposed to be the head of an international criminal terrorist organisation," Mr Khan said.

Niknam Hussain, a former mayor of Aylesbury and current chairman of the independent advisory group at Thames Valley Police, also knew Lewthwaite.

He said: "I'm astonished and amazed. I can't believe it's true in any which way.

"Until they provide us with proof, I think it's innocent until proven guilty, to be honest."

Mr Hussain added: "To ascribe a level of sophistication that she could control a whole terrorist empire, I'm sorry, I don't think that Tom Clancy could write anything like that."

Mr Hussain also knew Lewthwaite's husband, and described him as seeming "perfectly normal".

Those who were acquainted with Lewthwaite as a youngster insisted she was not linked in any way to the Jamia Ghausia Mosque or to the mainstream Muslim community in Aylesbury despite her desire to "learn Islam quite deeply".

She met Lindsay, a Jamaican-born Muslim convert who never made a secret of his extremist views, on an Islamic chatroom.

Brought up by his mother in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, where he alarmed his teachers by attempting to radicalise impressionable younger pupils, he went on to kill 26 people travelling between King's Cross and Russell Square on the Piccadilly line.

COMMENT RULES: Comments that are judged to be defamatory, abusive or in bad taste are not acceptable and contributors who consistently fall below certain criteria will be permanently blacklisted. The moderator will not enter into debate with individual contributors and the moderator’s decision is final. It is Belfast Telegraph policy to close comments on court cases, tribunals and active legal investigations. We may also close comments on articles which are being targeted for abuse. Problems with commenting? customercare@belfasttelegraph.co.uk

Nightlife Galleries

More

Latest News

Latest Sport

Latest Showbiz