ONCE the girl next door in a town in Ireland, Samantha Lewthwaite is now on the run from Kenyan police who suspect her of involvement in an al-Qaeda bomb plot.
Lewthwaite’s journey from an ordinary Banbridge schoolgirl to Islamic extremism is unique.
The widow of 7/7 suicide bomber Germaine Lindsay, now dubbed the White Widow, is the focus of BBC Radio Four’s The Report, which spoke to those who knew and lived near Lewthwaite during her many years in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, where the teenager first found her adopted religion of Islam.
In the mid-1990s she moved back to England, where she was born, with her Ulster mother Christine and father Andrew, a former soldier.
Councillor Raj Khan said the girl who grew up in a quiet English street is not the one portrayed in the media. “She was a jolly child, a jolly friend, a really good person… well respected in the Pakistani and Muslim community and a really good human being,” he added.
“She could be led, but she’s not a leader. I think, if anything, she’s been pushed into it, threatened into it but not doing it willingly,” he said.
Befriending a Muslim family, Samantha converted to Islam in her mid-teens. By 17 she had changed her name to Sherafiyah and was wearing a hijab.
Aylesbury councillor Niknam Hussein told the BBC she knew the family well. “She was the one who initiated becoming a Muslim.”
While studying politics and religion in London in 2002 she met fellow Muslim convert Germaine Lindsay. They married before Lindsay carried out a suicide bomb attack on the London Underground in July 2005, leading to the deaths of 26. Shortly after the bombings, she issued a statement saying she had no prior knowledge of the attacks, and condemned the killings.
Lewthwaite gave birth to two children before travelling to Kenya in August 2011. In January, police in Kenya announced that she was wanted for a suspected terror plot. An online Islamic group last month claimed she was alive and well. The Muslim Youth Network claimed she had fled a terror base in Mombasa with hundreds of detonators.
The group said: “Praise be to Allah our walall (sister) is safe now… 500 bombs fuses?!”
It’s now almost four months since Lewthwaite disappeared after being allegedly linked to a group associated with al-Qaeda in Somalia, but interest in the White Widow seems unlikely to fade.
Police said Lewthwaite had been chief financier of an operation to blow up hotels and shopping centres on Kenya’s coast last Christmas and New Year. There were claims she instructed colleagues in bomb-making. Reports suggest she has fled to Somalia. – Belfast Telegraph