What you need to know:
- And, get this, she has lived among Kenyans for years now.
- But now the name of the 29-year-old Irish woman who became a teen convert from Roman Catholicism to Islam has rapidly become the object of serious speculation.
- Could the woman Al-Shabaab calls Dada Mzungu (White Sister) and the British press nicknamed ‘The White Widow’ actually be the ringleader and mastermind of the Westgate Mall massacre?
- One British journalist has a source within the Kenyan security forces — he insists on anonymity — who claims the Kenyan police had been hot on Samantha’s trail for quite some time.
- Samantha herself is an active tweeter, as are other Al-Shabaab terrorists who, in spite of their first Twitter account being shut down by authorities, managed to quickly replace it with a new account.
Few Kenyans had ever heard the name Samantha Lewthwaite before that fateful Saturday morning last week when terrorists, who subsequently identified themselves as Al-Shabaab fighters, attacked the upmarket Westgate Mall in Westlands, Nairobi.
But now the name of the 29-year-old Irish woman who became a teen convert from Roman Catholicism to Islam has rapidly become the object of serious speculation: Could the woman Al-Shabaab calls Dada Mzungu (White Sister) and the British press nicknamed ‘The White Widow’ actually be the ringleader and mastermind of the Westgate Mall massacre?
As Daily Mail reporter Andrew Malone wrote recently, he initially thought such insinuations were utterly far-fetched, but now he says that, after consulting with her Islamic acolytes at the Kenya coast as well as with the Kenyan police, prosecutors and investigators, all of whom have been trying to track her down since 2011, he no longer feels the speculation is spurious or far-fetched.
On the contrary, what he and also we have unearthed about The White Widow can easily lead one to believe she is a cold-blooded killer.
She could very well be behind the killing of countless Kenyans and friends of this country who had come here never doubting the place was peaceful and secure, only to find that Islamic terrorism, the sort most often associated with the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Shabaab, is the fastest growing ideology in East Africa.
Concerns that Samantha was at Westgate were fuelled by members of public who managed to escape the grenades and machine gun fire, and who said they were convinced they had seen a ‘veiled’ white woman wearing a burqa (Islamic cloth that covers the head and face) and toting a gun.
It is inevitable, then, that people would want to know who that woman was.
CLAIM OF ARMED WOMAN
Some who had been inside Westgate last Saturday around noon when the terrorists began to open fire on innocent shoppers even claim they heard the same armed woman shouting orders in Arabic as if she were the ringleader in charge of the whole operation.
Meanwhile, a Twitter account purporting to represent Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the atrocity and praised Lewthwaite for being “a brave lady”.
Some investigators are convinced she is the chief financier, recruiter, coach and trainer of terrorists in the whole of East Africa, starting possibly in 2007 when she first came to Kenya from the UK and settled at the Coast.
But, for many, it is quite inconceivable to imagine that the daughter of a British soldier who was born in Bambridge, Ireland, and spent her early teens in Aylesbury, England attending discos in Buckinghamshire, could become a teenage convert to Islam before she had reached 18.
But meeting Jermaine Lindsay in an online chat room at age 17 apparently turned her life around.
They were married three years later in 2004, but their marriage did not last long since the Jamaican-born Islamist, who was also known as Abdullah Shaheed Jamal, had trained to be a suicide bomber.
7/7 SUICIDE BOMBERS
In fact, Lindsay is notorious for being one of the four 7/7 suicide bombers who blew up three underground Tube stations and a bus in London on July 7th, 2005, just one year after they were married.
That was the first time Scotland Yard came into contact with Samantha Lewthwaite, who was seven months pregnant with Lindsay’s child at the time and who claimed she had no clue beforehand about her husband’s “horrific” plan to detonate bombs in the heart of London, which she claimed was “incomprehensible”.
She was such a good liar, wrote one Daily Mail reporter, that British police believed her and took her off surveillance before the end of that same year.
After that, she fell off the radar. She cut all ties with her UK family and apparently disappeared with her two little girls.
But guess where she went? She moved to Kenya in 2007 and settled in Mombasa, where it is said she rented four premises, one on the upmarket side of town and another on the shabby side where she apparently immersed herself in already existing Islamic extremist networks.
Then she appeared on police radar systems in 2011 when she was almost caught conniving with fellow terrorists to bomb a series of coastal tourist hotels that were particularly popular among British tourists.
CHARGED IN ABSENTIA
Just this week, on September 23, she was to be charged in her absence by Kenyan police with “conspiracy to improvise an explosive device with the intent to cause harm to innocent civilians”.
Her alleged co-conspirator, Jermaine Grant, who was nabbed in the same shabby flat that police had expected to find Samantha, was to be charged for his alleged involvement in the same terror plot. But both their court cases were suspended as the Kenyan police witnesses were sent to Nairobi to assist in the unfolding Westgate drama.
For a moment, let us pause. Shouldn’t it be unsettling to realise that the widow of one of London’s most notorious murderers of the 21st century has been a resident of the Kenyan coast since 2007? What were the Kenyan police doing all this time?
One British journalist has a source within the Kenyan security forces — he insists on anonymity — who claims the Kenyan police had been hot on Samantha’s trail for quite some time.
They had even staked out one of her four flats in Mombasa and almost nabbed her.
But due to a “clumsy dragnet”, she supposedly slipped right through their fingers.
CAUGHT IN SAMMANTHA'S FLAT
Meanwhile, Jermaine Grant got caught in the flat Samantha is said to have paid rent for in cash covering months in advance.
Inside was a trove of incriminating evidence, including everything from scads of ammunition and plenty of guns to a big black plastic bag, the kind normally used as a dustbin liner, which contained a large amount of cash.
The cash would fuel further speculation that Samantha was indeed Al-Shabaab’s leading financier in the East African region.
The assumption was that she had been using those funds to recruit young jobless Kenyans and other East Africans to join the Al-Qaeda affiliate which has its base in Somalia.
Where she obtained all this cash leaves room for even more speculation, but what is clear is that she had to get the funds from somewhere.
What she already did and further intended to do with that cash was apparently to use part of it to flit freely around the region.
Concealed effectively behind her all-purpose burqa, she is said to have been recruiting, training, coaching and of course funding future terrorists to attend the main Al-Shabaab training camp in southern Somalia.
But the most incriminating evidence of all the items found in Samantha’s shabby flat, and the one that makes international as well as local security forces sure that she is indeed a dangerous terrorist, is a chemical compound that was identical with that her former husband used to make the bombs he and his three extremist colleagues detonated, killing 52 Londoners in 2005.
After eluding the police in 2011, Samantha went underground again, only to apparently surface at the Westgate Mall.
Today, what virtually confirms Samantha’s identity as the White Widow as well as at least one of the ringleaders of the Al-Shabaab cell that has massacred so many at Westgate is social media.
Samantha herself is an active tweeter, as are other Al-Shabaab terrorists who, in spite of their first Twitter account being shut down by authorities, managed to quickly replace it with a new account.
In the process, the cell proudly claimed the White Widow as one of their own.
They called her ‘vrave’ in one tweet, apparently meaning ‘brave’. They have also made it clear on Twitter that the immediate goal of their current operation is “to bring terror to the heart of Kenya”.
As for Samantha, several recent news reports claim she is now dead, killed in the crossfire between the Kenyan security forces, who are being assisted by Israeli Special Forces and members of MI6 and the American FBI, and the Al-Shabaab terrorists.
But others believe she has once again eluded the police, probably by throwing off her Islamic attire and pretending to be an innocent British bystander.
It, however, might be wishful thinking to imagine Samantha dead — in the same way many Americans wanted to believe Osama bin Laden was killed early on after September 11, 2001 when he was not. For one, she has two daughters by the London suicide bomber whom she most likely wants to raise.
For another, she is said to have an all-female terrorist squad of suicide bombers that she has trained and probably plans to command as an insidious means of bringing down the non-Islamic Western world.
For, just as Scotland Yard released her from their surveillance programme in 2005 after her husband had done so much lethal damage to the London underground, so does the rest of the world mostly believe that women are rarely suicide bombers, a biased view that leaves them largely free to go on suicide bombing missions almost anywhere in the world.
Finally, some believe Samantha is part of the larger programme that Al-Shabaab recently tweeted about when they claimed the Westgate massacre was merely a prelude to a much bigger bombing project that has never been seen before.
Nonetheless, after her London-born accomplice got caught in Mombasa in 2011, Samantha admitted in one tweet that she was scared of being alone.
And as we really have no clue as to the character of this Islamic zealot, one cannot be sure that her conscience might well have finally gotten to her.
It is highly unlikely, however, that we shall ever see Samantha turning herself in to the authorities.
ASSUME ANOTHER IDENTITY
What is more likely, if she loses her will to keep killing or feels some sort of remorse for destroying so many lives, is that she will simply throw off the burqa, assume another identity — as she already has done to get through Customs when she found she was on the Most Wanted Terrorist list — and go live somewhere in the Islamic world.
But if she tries to carve out a new life for herself as an Islamic female, Samantha could be in for a rude awakening when, for instance, in Saudi Arabia, she would not be free to drive a car or enjoy a great many freedoms that she enjoyed as a Western female growing up in the UK.
In fact, it is highly unlikely that Samantha would sacrifice herself and her status as the wild White Widow who is said to have recently staged the assassination of a fellow Muslim, Omar Shafik Hamami of Alabama, US, whom she apparently felt was a rival for her power and prestige.
As the story goes, before he died, she had denounced him in a tweet, saying “FYI, Sam Lewthwaite thinks you are an irritating, obnoxious and contemptible little muj [meaning mujahideen] PRAT.”
Then after he was ambushed and shot dead, she again tweeted the apparent motive for his demise: “May his fate serve as a lesson to all would-be poster boys for jihad,” she wrote threateningly.
Seen by one Western reporter as one of the most dangerous ideologues in the Islamic world, Samantha is proving her detractors to be accurate about her style and character.
But now that she has come out so openly in the world and so much more is known about her than before, one cannot help feeling that her days are numbered, whether she makes it through the Westgate Mall Massacre or not.