The ‘White Widow’ revealed: Bright English girl who married a 7/7 bomber and became top al-Qaeda paymaster
Friends find it hard to believe Samantha Lewthwaite, who loved to gossip about pop music, is being hunted worldwide by anti-terror police
School pals remember her chatting happily as she walked down the high street of their Home Counties town after finishing their GCSEs.
So it is little wonder that today they find it almost impossible to believe Samantha Lewthwaite, who loved to gossip about pop music and fancying David Beckham, is being hunted worldwide by anti-terror police.
Security services from Britain, the US and Kenya know her as the White Widow, one of the most feared female terrorists in history.
On the run in volatile eastern Kenya, with three – or maybe four – young children, the 28-year-old daughter of an English soldier is wanted dead or alive.
No one knows the true scope of her influence in the global jihad movement, but one fact is certain: officials seriously fear Lewthwaite, widow of 7/7 bomber Jermaine Lindsay, is plotting an outrage with high-ranking al-Qaeda radicals.
For the fanatical followers of al-Qaeda, Lewthwaite is a heroine.
They call her the White Widow because of her European background and because Lindsay blew himself up in the attacks in London in 2005 in which 52 people were killed.
She is expert at disguise, switching from designer fashions to less revealing Islamic dress while under surveillance in the Muslim quarter of the port city Mombasa.
Described as the paymaster for a terror cell that has already hit tourist hotels this year, she is also accused of murder.
Some witnesses say she fired a grenade launcher into a bar crowded with football fans watching the Euro 2012 match between England and Italy on June 24.
Three people died, including a three-year-old boy.
Isack Simiyu, 23, who was outside the Jericho Bar, said the attack was led by a fair-skinned woman wearing a black headscarf.
He saw a black Toyota Rav4 and a white Toyota estate pull up. “A man in a mask and a woman in a buibui [black shawl] came out,” he said. “She lifted something like a launcher to her shoulders and started firing. She was a white lady. When she got down from the car I could see her face clearly.”
Isack picked out a picture of Lewthwaite when shown photos of four white women.
She is the most feared female terrorist since Ulrike Meinhof, founder of the Red Army Faction which carried out bombings across West Germany in the 1970s.
A Western intelligence source said agents are studying information provided by arrested Briton Jermaine Grant who was sharing a rented property with Lewthwaite in Mombasa.
Her British partner Habib Ghani fled with their children
Police accepted the brunette woman’s story that she was just a tourist. It is thought the rent came from al-Shabaab, the Somali wing of al-Qaeda.
It later emerged she had £50,000 in cash, creating speculation she had bribed her way to freedom.
Her diary, found in the ramshackle luxury villa, said she wanted her children to be suicide bombers.
Automatic rifles, ammunition, drums of chemicals used by suicide bombers and a laptop were also discovered.
After they had freed the mum, from Aylesbury, Bucks, Kenyan police later said she was “intending to cause harm to civilians” with “an explosive device”.
Lewthwaite was linked to plans to blow up tourist hotels, and attacks on the Dorchester and Ritz hotels in London.
Now dozens of MI5 and MI6 officers are in Kenya trying to track down British jihadists. One focus is any who might be heading back to the UK during the Olympics.
“When Grant was arrested in January, he quickly opened up about Lewthwaite to the local police,” an intelligence source said.
“She and Habib Ghani had managed to escape just in time with their children.
“British jihadists are the biggest threat to their own country, and Lewthwaite is being taken very seriously.
“Working with the Kenyans has provided MI5 with a vital resource on this woman and her associates.”
The source added: “Lewthwaite has some of the toughest and most resourceful members of the special forces and intelligence community looking for her.
“She will pop up eventually. It’s just a matter of time because she can’t keep being lucky.
“What is most amazing is that she is on the run with her children while still evading detection.
The fact that no one has reported this white woman moving about in remote areas proves how well protected she is.”
Lewthwaite has every reason to avoid capture.
Jacob Ondari of Kenya’s directorate of public prosecutions warns: “Lewthwaite is highly dangerous.
“She is not just a small cog in this terrorist machine – she has links to the top.
“I will be calling for the death penalty when she is finally caught.”
Back in Aylesbury neither her builder dad Andy, 56, nor her carpet fitter brother Allan have any idea where she is.
For the family the sinister White Widow is still “Samantha”, who loved fashionable clothes, trying on make-up and going to parties when she was a teenager.
She will never be the extremist who gave her name as Asmaa Shahidah Bint-Andrews when her third child, son Abdur-Rahman Faheem Jamal, was born at the town’s Stoke Mandeville Hospital in 2009.
No father’s name is given on the birth certificate. The boy turned three last week.
Lewthwaite was 18 when she converted to Islam, swapping jeans and T-shirts for Muslim dress, including a hijab.
She studied religion and politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies in Russell Square, London – a stone’s throw from where her husband would set off his suicide bomb.
It was while there that she met Lindsay, a Jamaican-born carpet-fitter who grew up in Huddersfield, West Yorks.
Although Lewthwaite’s family did not attend the couple’s Muslim wedding in a house in Aylesbury, they were said to be happy she had calmed down.
The couple’s first child, Abdullah, is now eight. A daughter, now seven, was born two months after the London bombings in July 2005.
At the time she was being protected by police who believed her to be innocent.
After the bombings, Lewthwaite painted herself as a victim who said she was appalled by Lindsay’s “abhorrent” actions.
She re-integrated herself with her family so well that in 2007 her dad took the whole family to Disneyland Paris.
Little is known about what Lewthwaite was doing between the birth of her third child Jamal – which was Lindsay’s Muslim name – and her arrival in Kenya in August last year on a forged passport.
It is believed she joined al-Qaeda in 2008. The two British men thought to be most involved with Lewthwaite’s alleged criminal activities in Kenya – Grant and 26-year-old Ghani- are from similar suburban backgrounds.
Ghani, 26, was born and brought up in Hounslow, West London. The family of Grant, who has been in jail since January, live in Newham, East London, close to the Olympic Park.
Grant is currently on trial accused of possessing explosives and conspiring to carry out bomb attacks, which could lead to a lengthy prison sentence if he his found guilty.
In Kenya, the White Widow might consider herself lucky to end up with a jail sentence.
“The police will shoot her if they find her and she tries to run,” Mr Ondari says.
“Too bad if she gets shot dead.
Kenya: ‘White Widow’ Briton Linked To Attack
The widow of a 7/7 bomber, who is a wanted terror suspect herself, may be involved in plotting the Nairobi attack, reports claim.
A female British terror suspect known as the White Widow could be linked to the shopping centre massacre in Kenya, according to some reports.
However the Foreign Office has denied that it is investigating any links between Samantha Lewthwaite, the English widow of 7/7 bomber Jermaine Lindsay, and the attack in Nairobi.
A white woman wearing a veil was reportedly spotted shouting orders to gunmen in Arabic during the attack on the Westgate complex in the Kenyan capital.
Sky News’ Chief Correspondent Stuart Ramsay said: “I saw a picture of a white woman wearing a balaclava and carrying a weapon.
“We know that she’d been in the area. She has been linked to a number of attacks in east Africa and they have been trying to capture her.
“It is difficult to know whether or not it is her.”
Lewthwaite is wanted by Kenyan police over links to a suspected terrorist cell.
In March 2012 it was reported that Lewthwaite, 29, who is originally from Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, had fled across the border from Kenya to Somalia.
However a commander of the group believed to be behind the attack has reportedly denied that any of militants are from the UK or US.
Some 69 people were killed in the attack, including four Britons.
Who is the ‘White Widow’ Samantha Lewthwaite?
DAYS after her husband blew himself up in a Tube carriage beneath King’s Cross station on July 7, 2005, killing 26 people, Irish woman Samantha Lewthwaite professed complete “incomprehension” at his “horrific” act.
Within weeks, the soldier’s daughter and teenage Muslim convert from Banbridge, Co Down, disappeared from view, with the two children she had by bomber Jermaine Lindsay, one of them the couple’s weeks-old newborn.
Police sources said surveillance on the family was “switched off” late in 2005.
Spin forward six years, to Christmas 2011, and that surveillance was on again.
But Samantha (29) was far from England. On this occasion, she was in a rundown suburb of Mombasa, on Kenya‘s coast, where she had just slipped a clumsy police dragnet.
In a two-room flat she rented in the city, one of four she paid for in cash with months of rent upfront, anti-terror police found chemicals identical to those her husband used at King’s Cross on 7/7. In another, more upmarket villa close to tourist hotels, ammunition, detonators, an assault rifle and cash in black bin-liners were seized.
Lewthwaite, then using a faked South African passport in the name of Natalie Faye Webb (a nurse from Essex who had never been to East Africa), had again disappeared.
A picture soon emerged of a woman “intending to cause harm to innocent civilians” by means of “an explosive device”, according to Kenyan police charges against her. She was on the run, Scotland Yard said, with a British-Kenyan man of Pakistani origin, Habib Saleh Gani. An associate of Lewthwaite’s, Jermaine Grant, again British, was arrested at the house with the bomb-making chemicals and is currently on trial for the same charges Lewthwaite faces, which he has denied.
But since the charges were drawn up, the following January, there has been “zero concrete information” about Lewthwaite, one senior anti-terror official in Mombasa said.
She has been accused variously of being al-Qa’ida‘s chief financier in East Africa, funding the recruitment and smuggling of Muslim youth to terror training camps in Somalia, and coaching her own all-women jihadist squad there.
And this woman — nicknamed the White Widow by police and “our white sister” by sympathisers — has been said to have directed grenade attacks against the kuffar worshipping in Kenyan churches and watching Euro 2012 in its bars.