Samantha Lewthwaite, a British mother of two (or three), has been a fugitive since 2005. There are now British media reports that the so-called White Widow has resurfaced in the Nairobi, Kenya, mall under attack.
A Kenyan government representative said that some of those rescued from the mall had sighted a "white woman" among the hostage-takers. When asked if the woman was Ms. Lewthwaite, “Nothing is being ruled out” was the reply.
The London daily, The Mirror, reported that Al Shabab had praised the White Widow on their Twitter account and boasted that she was with them.
On a site that has been repeatedly closed down, they wrote: “Sherafiyah lewthwaite aka samantha is a vrave (sic) lady! were happier to have her in our ranks!” In another posting they warned: “This is no more than a drill for a bigger event!”
"I suspect this woman Lewthwaite is behind this attack,’ a senior antiterror source told the Daily Mail, as survivors described how a woman in a veil appeared to be commanding the other terrorists as they hunted down and killed non-Muslim shoppers.
Who is Samantha Lewthwaite?
She was the wife of Germaine Lindsay, a man who blew himself up on July 7, 2005, at London's King’s Cross subway station, killing 26 people. At the time, Lewthwaite, denied having any prior knowledge of the attack. Shortly thereafter, she became a fugitive.
Lewthwaite, the 29-year-old daughter of a soldier, hails from Banbridge, County Down, Ireland. She converted to Islam as a teenager, and according to British media reports, has three children with whom she has been on the run.
In December 2011, Kenyan police raided a two-room apartment in Mombasa, Kenya. They found chemicals similar to those used in the July 7, 2005, bombing in London. Lewthwaite was identified as the person who rented the apartment, but she wasn't captured.
However, Jermaine Grant, who is British, was captured at the Mombasa apartment. He faces charges of conspiring to explode devices to hurt civilians, according to Kenyan police. Mr. Grant told police that he was working for Lewthwaite. She faces the same charges as Grant and another man later arrested trying to flee the country.
In March, the London Daily Telegraph reported that Lewthwaite and Fouad Manswab were plotting to free Grant, whose trial was set to begin Sept. 23 (today) in Mombasa. "We know that Fouad is in touch with Samantha Lewthwaite, and they were planning to rescue their accomplice," said Jacob Ondari, the deputy public prosecutor, at the time.
In media reports, Lewthwaite has been variously described as a financier, recruiter, and trainer for Al Qaeda, and the creator of an all-women jihadist squad in Africa. She has been accused of orchestrating grenade attacks at worship centers of "unbelievers of Islam" and believed to be behind an attack on those watching soccer in a bar in Mombasa during Euro 2012. Three people died in that attack. One eyewitness of the latter incident identified her from pictures of the incident.
And the nickname White Widow? The British media are playing off the term "black widow," which has been used by Chechen terrorists to describe women who take part in bombings and assaults after the death of their husbands. Some Al Shabab postings have described Lewthwaite as the "White Sister."