Kenya Manhunt: Where is 'White Widow'?

Sep 26, 2013 1:48 PM

Interpol has issued a “Red Notice,” or internationally wanted persons alert, for the British mother of three dubbed the “White Widow” at the request of authorities in Kenya.

Samantha Lewthwaite, known as "Sherafiya," is thought to be a key member of al-Shabaab, the Somalia-based militant group that has claimed responsibility for the deadly Nairobi mall siege.

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She is wanted by Kenya on charges of being in possession of explosives and conspiracy to commit a felony dating back to December 2011, according to Interpol.

Circulated to all 190 Interpol member countries, the Red Notice is one of the international crime fighting organization's most powerful tools in tracking international fugitives.

"By requesting an Interpol Red Notice, Kenya has activated a global 'tripwire' for this fugitive," said Interpol Secretary General Ronald K. Noble.

While the Interpol notice does not specifically cite the mall attacks, Lewthwaite was mentioned on al Shabaab’s Twitter feed before the post was taken down late Sunday.

“@HSM-PRESSOFFICE2: Sherafiyah lewthwaite aka Samantha is a very vrave (sic) lady,” it read. “were happier to have her in our ranks #westgate #AlShabaab COWARDS!”

It is not the first time Lewthwaite has been linked to attacks in Kenya, where police believe she was part a thwarted attack on hotels in the holiday resort in Mombasa, planned for Christmas 2011.

Lewthwaite hails from Banbridge, a small town around 30 miles south of Belfast in Northern Ireland.

She is a Muslim convert whose husband Germaine Lindsay was one of three suicide bombers responsible for the July 7, 2005 London bombings.

Her mother, Christine Allen, is widely reported to have met her father, Andy Lewthwaite, while he was serving as a British soldier in the 1970s in Northern Ireland at the height of the time known as "The Troubles."

As a child, she lived in Banbridge for two years, with her parents and older siblings Sabrina and brother John, attending a local primary school, according to the Belfast Telegraph newspaper.

Her grandmother Elizabeth Allen, who still lives near the town, told the paper that she now wears a panic alarm in case Lewthwaite reappears.

“I’ve been told by Special Branch [police officers] to contact them immediately if anything happens," she said.

After her father left the army, they returned to the British mainland, settling in Aylesbury, a small town north of London, where family friends describe her as a "jolly girl."

Raj Khan, a local councilor who has known Samantha for years said he finds it hard to reconcile the woman who he sees on the news, with the girl he once knew.

"She was a jolly child, and a really good person," he told NBC News. “She was an innocent young person. She would do anything to help other people, she was a very good human being."

He added that he fear his old friend was being demonized and that he will only pass judgment on the girl he knew if she is charged with terrorist activity.

"She was not strong-headed," he said. "That's why I find it absolutely amazing that she is supposed to be [involved in] an international criminal terrorist organization."

Family friend Niknam Hussain added that she was not born into Islam, but had become interested in it after befriending a local Muslim family.

“They were a nice normal Muslim family of Pakistani origin, nothing radical about them in the slightest," he told NBC News. "The father was a pious man who helped out in the local mosque, but they were not extreme at all. They still aren't."

He added that Samantha had befriended two daughters, of a similar age and spent a lot of time at the family's home after her parents split in 1995, according to Britain's, Daily Mail.

At around the age of 15, she had asked to become a Muslim.



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