The White Widow: Searching for Samantha, BBC1, TV review

A journey from Aylesbury to al-Shabaab that's stranger than fiction

I suppose the great thing about reading John le Carré, especially the Smiley books, is that at no point do you think, "Come on John, lad", bit far-fetched that bit, isn't it? But you think even the ex-spy le Carré himself might struggle with a sense of verisimilitude in the case of Samantha Lewthwaite, or the "White Widow".

Lewthwaite's case is fascinating for many reasons but even if you've encountered it before, to hear the whole tale recounted, as it was in The White Widow: Searching for Samantha (BBC1), one can be left agog all over again.

To recap, Lewthwaite was an Aylesbury girl – your "typical innocent English rose" according to local Lib Dem councillor Raj Khan – who converted to Islam at 17. She met future 7/7 bomber Germaine Lindsay online and then at a Stop the War demonstration in 2002, dropping out of university to marry him. After his suicide bombing, she was initially thought to be unaware of her husband's acitivites, though her account was soon questioned. She then left Britain for South Africa, remarried Kenyan Fahmi Jamal Salim and, later headed to his home country where's she's been accused of playing a key role with al-Shabaab.

As we've seen in the case of the young men who've left the country to fight in Iraq and Syria for Isis, the notion of Britons leaving the country to fight a holy war is fascinating itself. But when it's a white woman with four children, it's manna to public curiosity.

Buoyed by the extreme interest in Lewthwaite in the wake of the Westgate Mall attacks – of which there are no signs she was involved, despite many rumours at the time – the film-maker Adam Wishart had given himself the task of being the Morgan Spurlock to Lewthwaite's Osama bin Laden and asked the question: where in the world is Samantha Lewthwaite?

The answer, perhaps not too surprisingly, given Abbottabad and all that, is probably somewhere behind a high wall covered in barbed wire. They'll find her one day, you suspect – Interpol currently has a red notice out for her arrest. In the meantime, Wishart did as good a job of finding out what she's been doing for the last decade as you could hope.

Mixed in with an actress reading extracts from diaries recovered in 2011 (an odd, but effective touch), Wishart followed her trail to Aylesbury. There he visited an unlikely connection with the early-Nineties hip-hop scene there (many of the rappers, inspired by Malcolm X, converted to Islam and attended London mosques). We also went to Dewsbury, where Lewthwaite's interactions with Mohammad Sidique Khan were explained.

Then it was Johannesburg where Lewthwaite seemed the "model of middle class respectability" and worked in a halal pie factory where she was "in charge of sausage rolls and Cornish pasties" and eventually to Kenya where she lived as Natalie Webb.

Wishart certainly got to edge of darkness here. After he spoke to Makaburi, a radical Mombasa cleric, the interviewee was shot the next day (and soon killed). He also spoke to Simon Davis, the UN investigator who was later murdered in Somalia.

And even if there's not too much to implicate her specifically in any attacks, Lewthwaite's trail is a bloody one.

The last person she was seen with was her sister-in-law who was married to Musa Dheere, a man who was a lieutenant to Harun Fazul, the leader of the 1998 embassy attacks in East Africa and a confidant of Bin Laden himself.

Sure, there's a few degrees of separation there, but wherever Samantha Lewthwaite is, she's in deep.

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas