LONDON // A Briton nicknamed the “White Widow” is in the spotlight after a Kenyan minister said a British woman was among the attackers who shot dead dozens of people at a Nairobi shopping mall.
Samantha Lewthwaite, a 29-year-old Muslim convert, was married to Germaine Lindsay, one of four suicide bombers who attacked the London transport network in July 2005, killing 52 people.
The mother-of-three has been on the run in East Africa for around two years and is wanted by Kenyan police for alleged involvement in a terror plot.
Kenyan officials have given contradictory statements about whether a British woman may have been involved in the Westgate mall massacre in which more than 60 people died.
Kenya’s foreign minister Amina Mohamed told PBS that a British woman was among those to blame.
“She has, I think, done this many times before,” Ms Mohamed said, without identifying her.
Joseph Ole Lenku, the interior minister, earlier denied that any of the insurgents were women, saying some male attackers “had dressed like women”,
The daughter of a British soldier, Ms Lewthwaite professed herself appalled when her Jamaican-born husband detonated a rucksack full of explosives and blew himself up on a London Underground train on July 7, 2005, killing 26 people.
She was pregnant with their second child at the time.
“I totally condemn and am horrified by the atrocities which occurred in London,” she said.
Ms Lewthwaite had met Lindsay in an internet chat forum when she was 17, having converted to Islam two years earlier.
Described as a bubbly teenager, schoolfriends said she had an ordinary upbringing in the market town of Aylesbury, northwest of London.
Little is known about what happened to Ms Lewthwaite in the years after the London bombings.
Kenyan police released wanted notices saying she was travelling on a false South African passport under the name Natalie Faye Webb, accompanied by her three children, a girl and two boys aged between 7 and 12.
Media reports have linked her to plotting or masterminding attacks across the Horn of Africa, though with little evidence of her role.
Raffaello Pantucci, a terror expert at Britain’s Royal United Services Institute, said Ms Lewthwaite had acquired a “semi-mythical status”.
Nairobi’s Daily Nation newspaper quoted security sources saying that extremists on the Kenyan coast call her “Dada Muzungu” - “white sister” in Swahili - and that she had slipped through a Kenyan dragnet in Mombasa in January 2012, when forces raided villas where she was believed to have been hiding.
Ms Lewthwaite has also been linked to Jermaine Grant, an alleged British Islamist currently on trial in Kenya’s port city Mombasa for possessing explosives.