'White Widow' Samantha Lewthwaite wanted by Interpol
Widow of 2005 London transit bomber wanted over 2011 Kenya bomb plot
International police agency Interpol, acting at Kenya's request, issued an arrest notice Thursday for 29-year-old Samantha Lewthwaite, otherwise known as “The White Widow.”
The alert is not, however in connection with the Westgate Mall attack, but over a 2011 plot to bomb resorts in Kenya.
Lewthwaite, who was married to one of the suicide bombers in the 2005 attack on London's transit system, is a British-born Muslim convert thought to have played a part in the Nairobi shopping mall attack last week.
"Kenyan authorities have ensured that all 190 member countries are aware of the danger posed by this woman, not just across the region but also worldwide," Interpol said in a statement.
Officials have not made public any evidence linking her to the mall attack and the Interpol notice does not mention it. Al-Shabab, the Somalia-based extremist group behind the Kenya mall siege, denied any female fighters participated.
Nevertheless, the timing of the Interpol notice so soon after the attack fuelled speculation she was involved in some way – suspicions that were stoked earlier in the week by comments from Kenya's foreign minister that a British woman played a role the assault.
Interpol said this is the first time it has been asked to issue a "red notice" for Lewthwaite. The notice said she is wanted on charges of possessing explosives and conspiracy to commit a felony in December 2011.
Earlier this week, Kenya also requested Interpol's help with forensic analysis and on-site assistance during the ongoing Westgate shopping centre investigation. Members of an Interpol response team arrived in Nairobi Wednesday.
‘The White Widow’
Lewthwaite, the daughter of a former British soldier, was born in Northern Ireland and grew up in Aylesbury, a commuter hub northwest of London.
It is believed she converted to Islam in her teens and went on to study religion and politics at the School Of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London. It was around that time she met Jermaine Lindsay; first in an Internet chat room and later at a demonstration against the war in Iraq.
The coupled married in an Islamic ceremony in 2002 and moved back to Aylesbury a year later.
Local City Councilor Raj Khan, who knew Lewthwaite in her early teens and ran into her again shortly before the subway bombings, told The Associated Press she was a "normal, average British girl" who was shy and lacked confidence.
"She was going through the journey of becoming a Muslim," he said. "There was no sense of radicalization, and no feeling among people that she showed signs of radicalization."
Ten years later, Khan ran in to her again whe she and her new husband, Lindsay, approached him for help finding subsidized housing.
"She seemed the same soft-spoken girl," he said. "I asked them to come see me in my office and the next thing I knew the bombings happened." After that, Lewthwaite went into hiding and Khan says he has had no further communication with her.
After it became clear that her Jamaica-born husband had been involved in the London bombings, Lewthwaite told The Sun newspaper two months after the attacks that her husband had fallen under the influence of Imams at radical mosques.
"How these people could have turned him and poisoned his mind is dreadful," she was quoted as saying. "He was an innocent, naive and simple man. I suppose he must have been an ideal candidate.
After that, she stayed largely out of view until March 2012, when her name surfaced in a Kenyan terrorism investigation.
Kenyan officials said at the time that Lewthwaite and other foreigners travelled to Kenya in 2011 to plan a bomb attack on the Kenyan coast over the Christmas holidays.
Authorities said Lewthwaite, who at the time was pregnant by her new Kenyan husband, was in charge of finances for the planned attack, and they suspected she had rented several houses in Mombasa to assemble a bomb.
Detonator caps and bomb making materials similar to those used in the London transit attacks were found in a house she shared with an accomplice, according to officials. The group was allegedly collaborating with Kenyans sympathetic to al-Shabab.
In December 2011, Kenyan anti-terrorism police found a woman they believed to be Lewthwaite in the house, but they let her go after she showed them a South African passport.
Police later realized the passport was fraudulent, but by the time they returned to the house, she was gone.
Lewthwaite is believed to have fled to Somalia, and Kenyan authorities have accused her of plotting to break an alleged accomplice out of jail in their country.