Global hunt for Ulster al-Qaida suspect... but who is the White Widow?
Ivan Little reports on the international police search for Samantha Lewthwaite, the former Co Down schoolgirl who is suspected of plotting to carry out a series of bombing atrocities in eastern Africa
Published 10/03/2012 | 08:22
The slickly-produced website of the ‘White Widow’s’ old school in Banbridge is headlined with the news that its athletes have just been crowned Northern Ireland cross-country champions.
But, unsurprisingly, there’s no mention of Ballydown Primary School pupil and on-the-run terror suspect Samantha Lewthwaite.
She is eluding the chasing pack of police in Kenya investigating a major al-Qaida-inspired bombing campaign.
And as the latest batch of youngsters sit down to their school dinners today, nothing will be further from their minds than Lewthwaite.
On another continent, hundreds of police and agents will talk of little else but their hunt for the mother-of-three who has supposedly gone from a terrorist-threatened Army family in Co Down to one of the most dangerous terror suspects on the planet.
The innocent-looking girl, used to live on the unremarkable Whyte Acres estate off the Castlewellan Road in Banbridge with her soldier father Andy and her local mother Christine.
Now she has been dubbed the White Widow because she was married to one of Britain’s most evil killers — 7/7 bomber Jermaine Lindsay whom she met after the family moved to Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire.
She always maintained she had no idea that Lindsay planned to detonate a bomb in a rucksack on a Tube train travelling between King’s Cross and Russell Square on a bloody July day in 2005.
Her husband killed himself and 26 passengers in the worst of the four terrorist attacks to hit the capital that day.
A week later Lewthwaite, who had taken the Muslim name of Sherafiyah, rang police to report her husband missing, and apparently wouldn’t accept their claims he’d been the bomber until investigators produced evidence.
She was apparently dragged screaming from her home and said she abhorred the bomb attacks, claiming her husband’s mind was poisoned by radicals.
However, over the last week, a different picture has emerged of the reputedly sorrowful Samantha Lewthwaite after the authorities in Kenya issued a passport photograph of a woman wanted for questioning after a bomb factory was found in her house in coastal Mombasa.
The name on the passport was Natalie Faye Webb, an Essex nurse.
If the name didn’t match Lewthwaite, the photo did. Police in Nairobi said they were tipped off that al-Qaida-linked terrorists were planning to blow up hotels and shopping centres on Kenya’s east coast last Christmas and New Year.
Lewthwaite, who hasn’t been in touch with her family in Britain for years, was said to have been chief financier of the operation and there were even claims she instructed colleagues in bomb-making.
People living in a strict Muslim district of Mombasa said they knew Lewthwaite as “the white woman”.
The authorities in Kenya believe Lewthwaite had other safe houses — and another man, British terror suspect Habib Saleh Ghani.
Lewthwaite’s father Andy has denied that his daughter, the youngest of his three children, could be the monster portrayed by Kenyan police. “She couldn’t be involved in anything like that,” he said.
Andy Lewthwaite met his wife Christine while he was serving in Northern Ireland with the Army at the height of the Troubles. Samantha was born in Banbridge on December 5,1983 but after the family moved to Aylesbury her parents separated in 1995.
Friends said the little girl who loved jewellery and make-up was devastated and turned for comfort to Islam, converting in her mid-teens. It was on an Islamic chatroom that she met Lindsay, a carpet fitter from Jamaica. Neither of Lewthwaite’s parents attended the marriage.
Later she claimed the relationship soured and that she’d thrown her husband out of the family home just days before 7/7 because he’d been having an affair behind her back.
After the identities of the London bombers were confirmed, she was burnt out of her home and she effectively disappeared off the radar.
Until, that is, she reappeared in Kenya where police have published several new images of the woman for whom they have an arrest warrant.
But there are indications that she has fled Kenya for Somalia. For Lewthwaite’s mother, however, life has had to go on as normally as possible.
She has reportedly been back home in Banbridge to visit her mother and to celebrate a family birthday, telling friends she was shocked at the reports about the White Widow from Whyte Acres.