Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 1 February 2015

Nairobi attack: White widow's journey from Ulster schoolgirl to Kenya terror suspect

Samantha Lewthwaite - from innocent child to a worldwide jihadist

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)

From an inconspicuous upbringing in a Co Down town to becoming the most wanted female terror suspect in the world.

The wife of one of the London suicide bombers, mother-of-three Samantha Lewthwaite, is on the run accused of spearheading a Muslim extremist group's jihad.

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.

Such is the perceived threat posed by Lewthwaite, a dedicated unit of the elite SAS has reportedly been tasked with finding her.

While Northern Ireland is no stranger to homegrown terrorism, Samantha Lewthwaite's story is unique.

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 family moved to Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire but in 1995 Lewthwaite's parents Andy and Christine separated.

Distraught, Lewthwaite spent more time with Muslim neighbours and was apparently drawn to the faith by their close family ties. Then, at the age of 17, she converted to Islam, marking her religious conversion by changing her name to Sherafiya and swapping jeans and jewellery for a traditional long gown.

In 2002, she married Jermaine Lindsay in an Islamic ceremony at a house in Aylesbury.

The pair met on an Islamic chatroom while she was studying religion and politics in London and he was working as a carpenter. Neither of her parents attended the wedding.

Days after her husband blew himself up on a London Underground train in July 2005, killing 26 people, pregnant Lewthwaite tried to distance herself from the attacks. She described the terrorist bombings as "abhorrent".

In a statement she explained: "Jamal is accountable for his actions 100% and I condemn with all my heart what he has done."

In 2009, Lewthwaite and her children disappeared from the UK.

She resurfaced two years later after travelling to Kenya using a false passport.

The Kenyan authorities issued a photograph of a woman wanted for questioning after a bomb factory was discovered at a house in Mombasa. The picture on it was that of Lewthwaite.

Police said they were tipped off that terrorists were planning a bombing campaign on shopping centres and hotels. Last year, Kenyan police revealed they were searching for her on suspicion of taking part in a grenade attack on a bar which had been packed with tourists watching an England football match. Three people were killed and 25 injured.

Lewthwaite is believed to be in the inner circle of al-Shabaab, an al-Qaida-linked group, the name of which translates as 'the people'.

It is understood she controls the group's finances and is a vital conduit between al-Qaida groups in Pakistan and east Africa.

Al-Shabaab is a militant group fighting to create an Islamic state in Somalia.

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From innocent schoolgirl to a worldwide jihadist

December 5 1983: Born to parents Andrew and Christine. They lived briefly in Banbridge while Andrew, a British Army soldier, was serving in Northern Ireland. They later moved to Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire.

1995: Mr and Mrs Lewthwaite split. Friends say Samantha was badly affected by the break-up.

2001: Having started an A-Level in religious studies, she converts to Islam.

2002: She marries Jermaine Lindsay in an Islamic ceremony in a house in Aylesbury.

2004: Their first child, a son, born.

September 2004: Samantha meets Mohammad Siddique Khan, the ringleader of the July 7 attacks.

July 7, 2005: Lindsay detonates a bomb on a train between King's Cross and Russell Square, killing himself and 26 passengers.

July 2005: Samantha calls police to report her husband missing.

September 2005: Samantha gives birth to her second child, a daughter. Lindsay is the father.

July 2009: She gives birth to a third child, a boy. It is not known who the father is.

August 2011: Travels to Kenya on a false South African passport.

2012: Kenyan police reveal they are searching for Samantha on suspicion of taking part in a grenade attack on a Kenyan bar.

In March, notes emerge supposedly written by Samantha with plans for a book about being the wife of an Islamic holy warrior.

In July, reports emerge that Samantha is attempting to recruit all-female terror cells

2013: In March Mombasa Magistrates Court hears Samantha was behind an armed mission to break an accomplice identified as Jermaine Grant out of custody

September: Habib Ghani, who is believed to be Samantha's second husband, is murdered.

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