attack at the Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi have prompted rampant speculation that it could have been a suspect wanted for years by officials: Samantha Lewthwaite, otherwise known as the "White Widow."
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“Nothing is being ruled out,” noted State House spokesman Manoah Esipisu regarding whether the woman could be among the dead hostage takers in the mall’s rubble.
Lewthwaite got her nickname from the British press after her husband, Germaine Maurice Lindsay, was named as one of the four suicide bombers in the deadly London “7/7” attacks on the subway system in 2005. And although she initially condemned his actions, she went missing shortly thereafter, arousing suspicions, and later emerged as a terrorist suspect in her own right.
According to BBC journalist Peter Taylor, who just returned from Kenya, Lewthwaite has become a sort of “mythological figure,” adding, “If she is dead, then she would have achieved the kind of martyrdom that her husband, Germaine Lindsay, achieved.”
Still, some doubt that she could have played a role in the mall siege, as female involvement in such an attack would be "very unusual," according to CNN security analyst Peter Bergen. "Typically these groups are misogynist," he said. "Their view is the woman should be in a home and shrouded in a body veil." [Update: On Thursday, Interpol, in Paris, issued an arrest notice for Lewthwaite at Kenya's request.]
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So why do so many speculate that Lewthwaite was involved? Here’s what we know about the 29-year-old mother of three (or four):
Her childhood. Born in Buckinghamshire, England, to British soldier Andy Lewthwaite and Christine Allen, Samantha spent much of her early life in the town of Aylesbury and in Northern Ireland. A local politician in Aylesbury, Raj Khan, who knew her family socially, told the BBC that he is surprised at the idea of her involvement in Kenya — especially speculation that puts her in a leadership role. “She was an average, British, young, ordinary girl. She had a very great personality. She didn’t have very good confidence,” he said. “She was not strong-headed. And that’s why I find it absolutely amazing that she is supposed to be the head of an international criminal terrorist organization,” he said.
Her conversion. Lewthwaite converted to Islam when she was a teenager, with the aid of a local Muslim family she befriended, according to the BBC. She stood out at school after that, teacher Novid Shaid told the radio network. “She seemed to be really proud wearing the hijab; there was a bubbly feeling around her,” he said, adding that, eventually, “we noticed her wearing the full jalabiya [robe], which some converts tend to do when they become more serious,” he said. She then studied religion at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London for two months.
Her marriage. The teenager met Lindsay in an Islamic Internet chat room, according to the BBC. They married after a few months, made their home in Aylesbury, and soon had a child together. Reports say that she had two or three more children after the birth of her second one, in 2005.
Her link to the London bombings. Lindsay, a Jamaican native and Islamic convert who became a radical terrorist, was one of four people who set off bombs in the subways, killing 56 people, including themselves. Pregnant at the time with their second child, Lewthwaite, then just 21, condemned her husband's actions as "abhorrent” and told the Sun, “How these people could have turned him and poisoned his mind is dreadful. He was an innocent, naïve and simple man. I suppose he must have been an ideal candidate.” Shortly thereafter, she disappeared.
Her reemergence. Lewthwaite has been wanted by Kenyan police on terrorist charges since 2011, for allegedly plotting an attack on “Western targets” in Kenya, reported the Telegraph. She was believed to be on the run in East Africa, possibly with Habib Ghani, who might have been married to her. The two were charged for allegedly working closely with Jermaine Grant (currently on trial in Kenya) when police discovered their bombing plots. Lewthwaite vanished. Earlier this month, Ghani reportedly died in an ambush outside of Mogadishu after fleeing Somali terrorist group al-Shabaab — the same group claiming responsibility for the latest Kenya attack.
Her ties to South Africa. Lewthwaite used an assumed South African identity to take out bank loans and rent property in Johannesburg, eNews Channel Africa (eNCA) reported Wednesday. Using the known alias Natalie Faye Webb, she rented at least three properties around Johannesberg (though it was unclear whether she ever lived there), ran up debts of $8,600, and used the fake passport to enter Kenya in 2011.
Her alleged blog. Though unsubstantiated, reports in 2012 claimed Lewthwaite was behind a telling blog post (since removed from the Internet) called “Fears and Tears: Confessions of a Female Mujahid,” posted on the site of Muslim Youth Centre, a Kenyan ally of al-Shaabab. In it, the anonymous writer warned, “Fear can make you do many things,” and wrote, “My decision to revert [sic] to Islam is the most precious gift that my maker has bestowed upon me.”
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