Following the Westgate Mall Attack, media focus has turned in part to a British woman named Samantha Lewthwaite, nicknamed “The White Widow.”
Lewthewaite was the wife of suicide bomber Germaine Lindsay, a man who blew himself up on July 7, 2005, at London’s King’s Cross subway station killing 26 people — an attack now known as “7/7.”
Lewthwaite initially denounced the attack, but then she and her two children disappeared from the U.K. She next surfaced in 2011 when Kenyan counterterrorism investigators tracked her down to an apartment in Mombasa, Kenya.
Pflanz writes that her mystique has only grown since then:
She has been accused variously of being al-Qaeda’s chief financier in the region, funding the recruitment and smuggling of Muslim youth to terror training camps in Somalia, and coaching her own all-women jihadist squad there. She has been linked with senior al-Qaeda commanders’ alleged plots to attack Eton College and the Dorchester and Ritz hotels in London.
The Kenya mall attack was allegedly perpetrated by al-Shabab, a Somalian militant group with heavy ties to al-Qaeda, and the same group to which Lewthwaite allegedly defected.
According to Sky News, Chief Correspondent Stuart Ramsay claims he “saw a picture of a white woman wearing a balaclava and carrying a weapon.” A report out of the Huffington Post says that officials are investigating whether or not she was involved in the attacks.
Arabic-language Twitter account that journalists have used to communicate with the Somali al Qaeda affiliate in the past confirmed the names of the Americans. All have Somali-sounding names, and two of them are alleged to be from the Minneapolis–St. Paul area in Minnesota, home to a large Somali-American community, from which Al-Shabab has been actively seeking to recruit in the past.
Recruiting Westerners is a relatively new strategy for al-Qaeda and Islamic Militants, only emerging in the last decade or so. Homegrown recruitment was the focus of infamous American-Islamic cleric Anwar Awlaki, who was born in Phoenix and left the U.S. for Yemen.
He started the English-language online al-Qaeda fanzine called “Inspire,” aimed at recruiting English-speaking terrorists, ostensibly to wage domestic war in the homeland.
Citing Congressional reports, Umberte Bacchi of the IB Times writes that al-Shabab has recruited “more than 40 Muslim Americans and some 20 Canadians.”
Of these, he calls Lewthwaite the “most wanted woman in the world.”
Pflanz even notes that “Lewthwaite herself remains free despite the combined attempts of Kenyan, Tanzanian, British and, allegedly, U.S. anti-terror detectives to find her.”