Terror: Before the white widow, there was a German blonde

Samantha Lewthwaite (White Widow), one of the world’s most-wanted woman terrorist. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • Samantha was in 2011 arrested in Mombasa together with Jermaine but she managed to convince the police that she was an innocent tourist.
  • Thirty years ago, Monica Haas drove into a British-run consulate in Lebanon and applied for a visa to Kenya.

As her accomplice, Jermaine Grant, was jailed for nine years by a Mombasa court last week, one of the world’s most-wanted women terrorists, Samantha Lewthwaite, remained at large.

But the story of Jermaine and Samantha might never match the forgotten tale of another terrorist leader, a beautiful 23-year-old German blonde named Monica Haas, who in 1976 almost brought Kenya and Uganda to war.

It is also the story of Venezuelan terrorist, Carlos the Jackal, now in prison in France.

In many ways, Monica was like Samantha and both shook Kenya’s intelligence system. Another parallel is that both were radicalised in Yemen: – Monica by the Palestine guerrillas in 1976 and Samantha by Al-Qaeda’s most prolific recruiter, the late Anwar Lewthwaite.

Interestingly, too, both were arrested in Kenya and both were freed!

Samantha was in 2011 arrested in Mombasa together with Jermaine but she managed to convince the police that she was an innocent tourist.

She was let go and she vanished into frenzied Somalia with her fictitious name – Natalie Faye Webb - never to be seen again.

Monica was not as lucky in 1976 – or put another way, she was never jailed in Kenya.


But her terror sprees changed the way Israel protected its installations in foreign countries and accelerated Kenya’s dalliance with Mossad on intelligence gathering.

While little is known about Samantha’s stay in Mombasa, a few years after her husband Germaine Lindsay blew himself up in a London underground train in July 2005, it is clear that she used a fake South African passport and had married a Kenyan named Fahmi Jamal Salim -whom she met in Johannesburg in 2008. Salim was a brother-in-law of Musa Dheere – Al Qaeda’s strongman in Somalia who was killed in 2011 in Mogadishu.

That is how she got her Al-Shabaab connections – and that is the woman believed to have planned the September 2013 Westgate attack.

Thirty years ago, Monica Haas drove into a British-run consulate in Lebanon and applied for a visa to Kenya.

It was an innocent application – or so it was thought. But it wasn’t.

If anyone had checked thoroughly, they could have realised that hers was a fake passport and that the German girl – like Samantha – had a fictitious name, too.

By then, the British were managing Kenya’s visa applications in volatile Lebanon, which was going through a vicious civil war as PLO battled for space. Monica was coming to Nairobi for a highly risky assignment: To trace the whereabouts of five terrorists who had been sent to shoot down an El Al - Israel’s national airline- Boeing 707 as it approached the airport.

Although the terrorists were armed with two Russian-made Strella ground-to-air missiles, they had apparently disappeared without trace and now Monica was supposed to account for them.

What is now known from intelligence records is that the initial group had been sent to Nairobi by the Beirut-based Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) under the umbrella of a Berlin-based Baader-Meinhoff to bring down the Israeli plane.


Besides Fatah, led by the legendary Yasser Arafat, PFLP was the second largest group in the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) and was founded by George Habash, a doctorate in medicine holder from the American University in Beirut.

The PLO had two years earlier received a United Nations recognition as the spokesman of Palestinian people and had been granted observer status.

At the time Monica was being dispatched to Nairobi, PFLP was over the moon after Carlos the Jackal, the Venezuelan whose real name was Ramirez Sánchez, had managed to seize OPEC ministers during their December 1975 Vienna Conference and won $50 million and a safe passage to Algiers.

It is now known that Carlos the Jackal was privy to the Nairobi attack.

Smoking out sympathisers and snuffing out supporters of PLO had become part of Israeli’s foreign policy as the organisation accelerated its raid on supporters of the Jewish state.

What Monica did not know, even as she applied for her Kenyan visa, was that both Mossad and Kenya’s intelligence had managed to quietly arrest the two East Germans, Brigitte Schultz and Thomas Reuter, and their three Palestinian allies before they could bring down the plane.

That was in the afternoon of Wednesday, January 21, 1976, at a time when PLO had received a huge military boost from Syria.

In Kenya, Special Branch head, the reclusive James Kanyotu, had formed a small team to monitor the PLO threats in the region.


Any Palestinian applying for a visa to Nairobi was put under watch and since Israel had trained some of the senior intelligence officers within the Jomo Kenyatta government, the surveillance was made less complicated.

Thus, Monica was walking towards a trap as she arrived, unaccompanied, on the morning of January 25, 1976.

In then socialist East Germany, where she came from, intelligence files listed her as Monica H.

She was among a group of Marxist-leaning East Germans who arrived in South Yemen to join the terror groups operating in the chaotic region. She had left her first job as a telephone operator at the headquarters of the US military in Frankfurt for South Yemen in 1975 with members of other terror groups — Red Army Faction, Basque Fatherland and Liberty and 2 June Movement.

This is more or less the same way Samantha left London for Africa.

Because of her striking looks, Palestinians nicknamed her “the Beauty” and started training her as an “advance scout and courier of weapons”. In these camps, she befriended PFLP commander Wadie Haddad’s deputy leader Zaki Helou and they “got married”.

Haddad was the military head of PFLP and is the one who first employed Carlos the Jackal before they fell out after Carlos stole some ransom cash.


The outbreak of the Lebanese Civil War in 1975 and the expulsion of PLO from its Tunis headquarters had forced PLO sympathisers to South Yemen where terror group cells from East Germany, West Germany and their Soviet trainers arrived in droves.

Haddad was a radical plane hijacker and bomber and his desire was to popularise his group by bringing down an Israeli plane.

But this had been frustrated by the stringent security measures employed in various Western airports. Also, he had fallen out with his boss, Habbash, who had decided to abandon hijacking of planes arguing that it was denting PLO and Yasser Arafat’s image.

Haddad had an ally in East Africa – Uganda’s President Idi Amin. With such sympathy, the Palestinian terrorists — whom Monica was looking for — had managed to receive two SAM-7 missile launchers with an explosive warhead capable of blowing up the plane. The arms were delivered to Nairobi by Amin’s agents.

Not knowing that they were being trailed by Kanyotu’s spies, the group hired a vehicle and transferred their arsenal on January 18. Then they drove towards the then empty grasslands of Embakasi and waited for the El Al plane which had 110 passengers on board to make its descent from the Ngong Hills direction.

History was about to be made.

In South Yemen, Haddad was waiting for breaking news. It never came and the whereabouts of his three Palestinians was not clear.


He decided to send a German couple – both aged 23 - Reuters and Shultz to investigate. They were arrested at the arrivals section of the airport and they joined the three missing Arabs at the police cells.

That is how Monica was brought into the picture. As the German wife of PFLP’s deputy leader, they knew that she was unlikely to abscond.

But once again, Mossad and Kenya intelligence were waiting for her at the airport and she was arrested. Later reports published by the Los Angeles Times and quoting her son, Franz, said that upon arrest, Monica offered to cooperate, most likely as a double agent and was let go.

It is never known how Monica was released but her son said that while in Kenya’s dungeons she was interrogated “very undemocratically”.

Monica never revealed what happened to her in Nairobi only that Kenya police threatened to put her “six feet under”.

As Monica was set free, Mossad secretly took away the rest to Israel and she found her way back to South Yemen where she rejoined the terror group.

PFLP continued to prod Kenya to release the three Palestinians while the East German government also enquired from the Kenya government whether they had arrested the young German couple. Foreign minister Dr Munyua Waiyaki said Kenya was not holding any such prisoners.

It was not until June 1976 that Haddad, Carlos the Jackal and Helou, Monica’s husband, managed to make their point when the PFLP group managed to seize an Air France jet, flying from Tel Aviv to Paris, and forced the pilot to fly them to Entebbe, Uganda. Here, they demanded the release of Palestinian prisoners held in Nairobi.


Again, Dr Waiyaki denied that Kenya was holding such prisoners although the story of Monica’s release was never revealed.

To save its statesmen held by Haddad in Uganda, Israel decided to carry out a rescue mission which is today known as the Entebbe Raid. With Kenya’s help, Israeli soldiers managed to rescue all the hostages besides crippling Idi Amin’s Air force, an issue that almost brought Uganda and Kenya to war.

In 1977, Israel admitted it was holding the prisoners and three years later in 1980 the wrath of Haddad’s group was witnessed when one of its members, 34-year-old Muradi Aksali, travelling with a Maltese passport, bombed the Jewish-owned Norfolk Hotel in Nairobi – only a week after the German couple was released from an Israeli jail.

The Popular Front, which claimed responsibility, said it was retaliating against Kenya for allowing Israeli troops to refuel in Nairobi during the raid on Entebbe Airport.

Meanwhile, Monica divorced her Palestinian husband and returned home almost incognito. As she arrived in Frankfurt, few knew that she was the mysterious woman with an infant daughter and a stolen passport who had in 1977 managed to smuggle pistols and hand grenades in a pram past security guards at an airport in the Spanish island of Mallorca.

This led to the hijacking of a Lufthansa plane that was diverted to Mogadishu. Also, few knew she was behind the murder of German industrialist Hans-Martin Schleyer.

In 1996, she was finally arrested and jailed in Germany. Haddad died of cancer and Carlos the Jackal is still jailed in France.