Wanted: The White Widow
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Durban - Interpol issued a Red Notice on Thursday for the arrest of “White Widow” Samantha Lewthwaite, 29, the suspected terrorist who is also believed to have obtained a fraudulent South African passport in Durban under the name Natalie Faye Webb.
Interpol secretary-general Ronald Noble said they had issued the notice - an internationally wanted alert - at the request of Kenyan authorities, who want Lewthwaite on charges of being in possession of explosions and in connection with a bombing plot targeting luxury hotels and restaurants that involved another Briton, Londoner Jermaine Grant, in 2011.
However, the request comes just days after the major terrorist attack on Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall by the Somali Islamist terrorist organisation al-Shabaab, which Lewthwaite is believed to have joined.
Some witnesses said women were among the attackers, but al-Shabaab denied on its Twitter feed that it used “our sisters” in its military operations.
The Red Notice, circulated to all Interpol countries, represented one of the most powerful tools in tracking international fugitives.
“Kenya has activated a global ‘tripwire’ for this fugitive,” said Noble.
“Kenyan authorities have ensured that all 190 member countries are aware of the danger posed by this woman, not just across the region but also worldwide.”
Home Affairs Minister Naledi Pandor said on Thursday that, in 2011, Kenya had asked the government to check a South African passport issued to “Natalie Faye Webb”.
The government had established that the passport had been issued fraudulently and had cancelled it.
“What we need to do is look at the applications office and check who processed it and how that person met the requirements to be granted a passport,” Pandor said.
“The last recorded use we have on our movement control system of that fraudulently acquired passport was February 2011. Since then, because the name has been stop-listed as a terrorist suspect on our movement control system and on Interpol, the passport has not been used.”
The passport was genuine, but fraudulently acquired, based on the identity of the real Natalie Webb.
Pandor said the late registration of birth had been used to get an ID book. The department has been working to eradicate these late registrations. The passport, issued in Durban, was based on the ID.
“What we need to do beyond the 2011 investigation is to find out, at the office of application, who was sent the application, and what form of assessment did they make of the applicant to be absolutely certain that this person was the legal holder of the documents submitted as part of the application,” Pandor said.
publication of the notice meant the public could play a crucial role in providing information to law enforcement agencies to help identify and find Lewthwaite.
With Lewthwaite’s previously being wanted only at national level for alleged possession of a fraudulently obtained South African passport, this case underlined the “invisible threat” posed by terrorists and criminals who travelled internationally using illicit passports, Noble said.
He complained that hundreds of millions of people a year crossed borders without their travel documents being checked properly, including against the Red Notice list.
Kenyan security sources disclosed on Thursday that Lewthwaite/Webb had been arrested in Mombasa, but later had been in explicably released.
The US, Israel and Britain complained loudly about the release, but the chief inspector of police who released Lewthwaite was merely transferred from Mombasa to headquarters in Nairobi, remaining with the Anti Terror Unit.
The source suggested that corruption had been involved and the inspector protected by “big shots”.
The Nation newspaper in Kenya reported that on March 3 last year, despite several raids, including a major one in Mombasa, police had failed to capture Natalie Webb, who they believed had information on accomplices of al-Shabaab.
The report said Webb had entered Kenya through the Namanga post on the southern border with Tanzania on August 25, 2011.
Kenyan police told the Daily Nation then that Webb’s South African passport could have been forged. The newspaper said police had first released Webb’s photographs on December 28, 2011.
Police said she was believed to be travelling in Kenya with her daughter and two sons, then aged 10, eight and five.
She was nicknamed the “White Widow” after the death of her husband, Germaine Lindsay, one of the four suicide bombers involved in the July 7, 2005 attacks in London.
The Mercury and Reuters