Kenya: Co Down raised 'White Widow' known to be in East Africa
Media reports have linked Samantha Lewthwaite to the ongoing terror attack in Kenya
Published 23/09/2013 | 18:52
The Ulster-raised widow of one of the July 7 bombers who is known to be in East Africa has gained "semi-mythical status" since travelling to the region, a terror expert said.
Raffaello Pantucci, a senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, said Samantha Lewthwaite had been "elevated" in perception since going there.
There have been conflicting witness accounts about whether a white woman was among the attackers in Nairobi, fuelling speculation over whether Lewthwaite, who was married to July 7 bomber Jermaine Lindsay, was involved.
Born to a Northern Irish mother and soldier father from Britain, Samantha Lewthwaite spent her early years in her home in the Whyte Acres estate in Banbridge.
Mr Pantucci said: "There has been a lot of speculation about it. Samantha Lewthwaite, since she appeared in East Africa, has been elevated in some ways to a semi-mythical status.
"I don't think we've had any concrete evidence of her being involved in this incident, but the fact of her being mentioned in this context is not surprising because of her connections, and it is known that she is somewhere in East Africa."
Lewthwaite is already wanted by Kenyan police over alleged links to a terrorist cell that planned bomb attacks on the country's coast.
In March last year officials said that she had fled to Somalia, and that police were hunting a woman who used several identities, including hers.
Her mass killer husband, Lindsay, 19, carried out the most deadly of the July 7 attacks, claiming 26 lives.
Mr Pantucci said he believes UK intelligence services will view the violence in Kenya as a regional terrorist atrocity, with no significant effect on the terror threat to Britain.
Somali-based militant group al-Shabab has claimed responsibility for the atrocity.
The country has been seen as less of a draw for would-be jihadis looking for a training ground, the expert said.
"I don't think the assessment (of the threat to the UK) will necessarily change, I think they will continue to see it as a regional terror threat," he said.
"Somalia had been of concern to the UK for quite a while but it had probably gone down. Al-Shabab was wracked by internal divisions and it seemed as if Somalia was less of a draw."