December 12, 2013

Mysterious ‘white widow’ terrorist eludes police in Africa

A British woman is an international fugitive, who allegedly transformed from a blindsided victim of her husband’s crimes to one of the world’s most wanted criminals.

Associated Press

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Undated photograph provided by Interpol showing Samantha Lewthwaite. I AP Photo

Aylesbury residents were unaware of Lindsay’s role until dozens of heavily armed police descended on Lewthwaite’s house just six days after the bombing. She became a national figure that night, viewed not as an Islamic extremist but as a wronged young mother, pregnant with her second child, shocked to discover that her husband had been part of a terrorist plot.

In a statement to the local paper, she condemned her late husband’s actions even as she defended him.

“He was a loving husband and father,” she said. “My whole world has been torn apart and my thoughts are with the families of the victims of this incomprehensible devastation.” She could “never have predicted that he could be involved in such horrific activities.”

The widow was taken from her home under police protection. That may have been prudent – three vigilantes were arrested after trying to set fire to her modest rented brick house in apparent retaliation for Lindsay’s actions.

When Lewthwaite eventually returned to Northern Road, neighbor Ray Davies said she seemed to enjoy her newfound celebrity.

“She walked around here like she was on top of the world,” he said. “I hope they catch her. And I hope they kill her.”

Magnus Ranstorp, a terrorism specialist at the Swedish National Defense College, doubts that Lewthwaite helped plan the subway attack, because the plotters would have been unlikely to jeopardize security by telling her about the scheme.

He also said detectives would have scrutinized all of Lewthwaite’s communications and prosecuted her if they found anything incriminating. But it is fairly common for converts like Lewthwaite to “overcompensate” by becoming more radical than the people around them.

“This comes up time and time again,” he said. “Being an outsider, they want to prove themselves. She would have had a lot of status as the widow of someone in a martyr operation. They usually raise their kids in their father’s footsteps. It was only natural that she would move into the region, marry someone else, and continue in their footsteps.”

And that is apparently what Lewthwaite did.

In late 2005, she and her two young children dropped from view, slipping off the public radar screen while the British press moved on to other sensations.

When she resurfaced in Africa a few years later, she was no longer the penitent widow apologizing for her late husband’s mass murder.

She was, instead, a jihadi in her own right, committed to waging war against the West.

She would not be seen in public, or grant interviews, but Kenyan police – and her own writings – describe a woman willing to die for her cause.

In July 2010, a white woman calling herself Asmaa Shahidah Bint-Andrews registered at the exclusive eight-room Genesis birth clinic in the well-to-do Saxonwold suburb just outside Johannesburg. She paid her deposit in cash – 27,500 South African rands, about $3,700 at the time.

She did not want to give birth in a regular hospital, with its impersonal wards, but chose instead a more expensive water birth. She picked the Sage room, which featured a marble birthing pool, leather chairs, and a private bathroom, recalled unit manager Tamzin Ingram.

A baby girl, Surajah, was born with no complications, aided by midwife Lesley Rose, and was duly registered with authorities.

Asmaa Shahidah Bint-Andrews turned out to be Samantha Lewthwaite using an alias. The infant was her fourth child – she had remarried.

Authorities later said she is believed to have entered the country using a South African passport issued to Natalie Webb.

Nearly two years later, in early 2012, Kenyan counter-terrorism police made the startling announcement that Lewthwaite had linked up with key figures in the shadowy al-Shabab terrorist networks, which has ties to al-Qaida and is branded a global threat by U.S. officials. Police said she and others had entered Kenya the year before to plan a bomb attack on a coastal resort over the Christmas holidays.

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