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Randburg - She was the kind of neighbour who didn’t wave back. She would never allow her three children to play outside with other children. She preferred to hole up inside their nondescript suburban home.
This is how some residents of a quiet cul-de-sac in Bromhof, Randburg, remember their brief interactions with a terrorist suspect from the UK, who has been dubbed the “White Widow” and whose real name is Samantha Lewthwaite.
“We hardly ever saw her,” recalls one neighbour of the secretive woman, who lived three houses from hers. “She stayed in the house all the time with her kids. She always wore a black hijab, showing only her face. She wasn’t friendly, and she would never allow her kids to play with the other kids outside. No, no, no.”
Residents are shocked that Lewthwaite, who assumed the name of Natalie Faye Webb in South Africa, may have been involved in the terrorist attack on a Nairobi shopping mall that left 67 people dead in a four-day siege.
She has been linked to the London tube bombings of 2005 after her husband, Jermaine Lindsay, blew himself up, killing 26 people.
The police in Kenya have hunted her since March 2012 after raiding her luxury villa at a holiday resort in Mombasa. At the time, it was suggested she was involved in a plot to blow up hotels and shopping centres in a suspected terror campaign.
She spent three years in South Africa, flitting intermittently in and out of the country, and rented the Randburg house for three months towards the end of 2010.
The neighbour remembered speaking to her only once, when Lewthwaite believed her son, a toddler, had gone missing.
“She got into her car and drove to the supermarket up the road. When she got back, she discovered her child was missing. She ran to us and asked us if we had seen him. It’s the first we’d ever spoken to her.
“Someone had seen her son run after the car and walk in the direction of the supermarket. She was very panicked. She thought her child had gone missing. But she drove up the road and found him.”
Neighbours are too fearful to be named. But they describe life there as peaceful. For Lewthwaite, it would have been the perfect hideout.
“For the first time, our community is in the limelight. It’s so quiet, nothing happens here.”
An elderly woman, who now lives with her daughter in the house, was shocked when journalists informed her this week that Lewthwaite had occupied her house. Like many other South Africans, she had watched, in shock, as al-Shabaab militants seized the Westgate mall.
“I actually get goosebumps when I think of such a cruel woman living here. It makes me sick to sleep in my bedroom because I think about what this woman could have planned while she lived here. She used the same bathroom, she swam in this pool with her kids. It freaks me out.”
“It’s horrible for a bloody murderer to have lived in your house - especially such a big terrorist. I just wonder where those kids are.”
Not everyone on the road was aware of Lewthwaite. “What? There was a terrorist living up my road?” said one dumbfounded neighbour as she watered her garden.
“Now our quiet suburb has become infamous.”
Pretoria News Weekend