When the first unconfirmed reports emerged of a “white woman” at the head of the Nairobi assault, many jumped to the conclusion that it must be Samantha Lewthwaite. And in the storm that followed the news that armed militants were stalking Westgate mall, Lewthwaite was praised in what was believed to be a Twitter account run by al-Shabaab, the Somali militant group which claimed responsibility for the attack.
Interpol have issued a Red Notice warrant for the so-called “White Widow” of Jermaine Lindsay, one of the four suicide bombers who launched the 7/7 suicide attacks on London.
The warrant stressed “the danger posed by this woman, not just across the region, but also worldwide” and put 190 countries on alert. Yet while it was issued at the behest of the Kenyan authorities, it did not draw an explicit link between Lewthwaite and the assault on the Westgate.
Instead, it stated that Lewthwaite was “wanted by Kenya on charges of being in possession of explosives and conspiracy to commit a felony in December 2011”. The warrant activated an international “trip wire” for Lewthwaite, Ronald K Noble, the Interpol Secretary-General, said.
Western intelligence officials remain sceptical of unconfirmed claims that Lewthwaite was among the attackers who stormed the shopping complex and was even issuing instructions to the militants. How- ever, as she is a person with known links to al-Shabaab, officials have not ruled out the idea that she may have been a “facilitator” for the attack, involved in planning and logistics.
The Kenyan government has made contradictory statements about whether or not there was a woman among the attackers involved in the atrocity. The continuing uncertainty around Lewthwaite’s purported involvement has been compounded by Interpol, which declined to state whether the warrant had anything to do with the Westgate assault.
It said that the notice had come within the past 24 hours from Kenyan authorities and that it was the first time such a warrant had been issued for Lewthwaite, even though she has been wanted in Kenya for some time for the alleged possession of a forged South African passport. The 29-year-old from Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, is also being sought in connection with a bomb plot in Mombasa two years ago, for which another British national, Jermaine Grant, is standing trial in Kenya.
Mr Noble pointed out that the publicity resulting from the Interpol warrant would raise awareness about Lewthwaite among the public and give them channels by which to pass on information. Lewthwaite is considered part of a “British Connection” of jihadists in Somalia. An associate, Habib Ghani, a UK citizen from Hounslow, west London, is reported to have been shot dead along with Omar Hammami, an American from Alabama with a Syrian mother, in an al-Shabaab internal feud earlier this month.
Ghani, of Pakistani and Kenyan extraction, went on the run after Kenyan police arrested Jermaine Grant in Mombasa over alleged possession of explosives in 2011.