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

Police had nearly nabbed her in a raid on Dec. 20, 2011 – just days before the planned attack– but let her go after being fooled by the South African passport she was carrying.

The widow’s fraudulent passport sported her own photo in place of Webb’s – a hapless U.K.-based nurse who had apparently been a victim of identity theft.

Lewthwaite was said to have fled to al-Shabab’s base in Somalia after that close call.

Kenyan authorities issued an arrest warrant for Lewthwaite to answer bomb making charges, which had been kept secret for four months. The warrant said Lewthwaite possessed acetone, hydrogen peroxide, ammonium nitrate, sulphur and lead nitrate, as well as batteries, a switch and electrical wire – preparations similar to the ones used so effectively by the London subway bombers.

Though the bombings never took place, the myth of the white widow was born.

Lewthwaite’s second husband, like her first, was a British-born Muslim.

It is not clear whether she and Habib Ghani met in England and went to Africa together or if they met in Africa.

It is clear that Lewthwaite treasured him, in part, for his embrace of Islamic extremism, or so she wrote in handwritten pages uncovered by Kenyan police after the raid in which they let her slip through their grasp.

The writings constitute the rough outline of a book Lewthwaite planned to write – “a message of hope, encouragement and light” – about the life of a jihadi.

“Allah has blessed me with being married to a mujahid and meeting many wonderful inspiring people along the way,” Lewthwaite wrote, praising her new husband for “terrorizing the disbelievers.”

She described him as talking with her 8-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter – the children of her first marriage – about their goals in life and being heartened to learn that both children wanted to take up their parents’ cause.

Her new husband taught the children that to be jihadis, they had to actually live their lives with that commitment guiding all their actions, Lewthwaite wrote.

“We have to strive for what it is we want,” she wrote.

Then she outlined a chapter on the “reasons for fighting and leaving all you love behind.”

“The situation is such that many times your own families – mothers, fathers – cannot even know that you are a mujahid etc... What does it mean for you to be a stranger?”

These words may offer the only clues to her state of mind in Aylesbury when she is believed to have shielded her radical views from friends and family alike. And they may explain why people in Aylesbury had no inkling there were extremists in their midst.

On Sept. 21, al-Shabab terrorists attacked the upscale Westgate Mall in Nairobi with grenades and assault weapons, killing at least 67 people. Early eyewitness reports that a white woman took part in the raid led to fevered speculation that Lewthwaite was involved.

“White widow exclusive: Mother of all terrorists!” read a front-page headline in London’s Daily Mirror tabloid.

Some British tabloids persistently referred to her as the mastermind of the slaughter – without a scintilla of evidence that she was even in Kenya.

At roughly the same time, her second husband was reported to have been killed in a shootout in Somalia between rival al-Shabab factions, making her a widow once again.

Lewthwaite became the subject of an international search on Sept. 26 when Interpol called for her arrest among its 190 member nations. But the “red notice” linked her to the failed 2011 Christmas plot, not to the Westgate Mall killings.

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