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
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor