Suspected terrorist's grandmother collapses in shockUpdated Wednesday, September 25 2013 at 12:51 GMT+3
|She converted to Islam at the age of seventeen. Photo:Courtesy|
'White widow' Islamist Samantha Lewthwaite was just an average British girl who was 'empty in confidence', a councillor who knew her as a youngster has said.
But today suspicion is mounting that she was the ringleader behind a bloody massacre in a Kenyan shopping centre in which more than 60 unarmed victims have been slain.
And it has emerged that her frail 85-year-old grandmother has been admitted to hospital because of the stress of her granddaughter's notoriety.
Elizabeth Allen, from Banbridge, Co Down, was given a panic alarm to contact security services in case terror suspect Lewthwaite ever made contact.
Family friends say the pressure of the situation and Lewthwaite's now-global notoriety have taken their toll on the frail pensioner's health and mental well-being.
Joan Baird, a veteran Ulster Unionist councillor in Banbridge who knows the family, said: 'This is so distressing for everyone. Mrs Allen is 85 and she is in and out of hospital. It is just so distressing.
'Certainly, everybody in the town is shocked and distressed by the news.'
Lewthwaite from Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, who converted to Islam age 17, was married to Jermaine Lindsay before he blew himself up in the July 7 terror attacks in London in 2005, killing 26.
The 29-year-old mother of three is already wanted by Kenyan police over alleged links to a terrorist cell that planned to bomb the country’s coast.
Now it is suspected that she was the mastermind behind the four-day gun and bomb attack on Westgate Shopping Centre in Nairobi, which has led to a continuing siege in which more than 60 people have lost their lives.
Born to English soldier Andy Lewthwaite - who met and married Irish Catholic Christine Allen while serving in Northern Ireland during the 1970s - she enjoyed an unremarkable childhood on Banbridge's Whyte Acres estate.
Lewthwaite was still at primary school when her family moved to Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire. In 1995 her parents split.
Councillor Raj Khan, whose family knew Lewthwaite’s family socially in Aylesbury, said he is surprised at speculation she is involved in the attack in Kenya due to how he remembers her.
She was an average, British, young, ordinary girl. She had a very great personality. She didn’t have very good confidence,' he said.
After becoming a Muslim, Lewthwaite changed her name to Sherafiyah and married suicide bomber Lindsay, who she had met on an Islamic internet chatroom.
Mr Khan recalled a meeting with Lewthwaite and Lindsay regarding a housing issue which took place three or four weeks before the July 7 bombings, and he said she was just as he remembered her.
'Certainly when I was around her, she was the same person, lacking in confidence.
'She was not strong-headed. And that’s why I find it absolutely amazing that she is supposed to be the head of an international criminal terrorist organisation,' he said.
Mr Khan said he was 'perplexed' that someone he knew, who was so 'empty in confidence', was being linked to international terrorism.
He said he prays that she is not involved, adding: '...and of course my worry is that if she in involved, is she under some kind of duress? Is there other factors involved?
'Or indeed, is it Samantha? I mean there are so many questions to be answered at the moment before one can make a view.'
Mr Khan said her family will be 'very upset' if she is involved.
'Of course like anyone else, they will be very hurt, very upset, very, very upset, but I think they too will be waiting for proof, not speculation,' he said.
Suspicion that Lewthwaite was in the attack in Nairobi were raised after the Kenyan foreign minister claimed that a British woman who has has allegedly been involved in terrorism 'many times before' was among the militants.
Amina Mohamed said the woman acted alongside 'two or three' Americans as security forces began a fourth day of fighting at the shopping centre where at least six Britons are known to have died.
After her husband Lindsay detonated his suicide bomb at on a Piccadilly line tube train between King's Cross and Russell Square stations in 2005, Lewthwaite had told how she was horrified by the massacre.
But the Jamaican-born Muslim convert, who grew up in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, had never made a secret of his extremist views, alarming teachers by attempting to radicalise younger pupils.
In 2009 Lewthwaite disappeared with her three children but resurfaced two years later after travelling to Kenya on a false passport.
The Kenyan authorities issued a photograph of a white woman in a veil who they said was wanted for questioning about a bomb factory in the coastal resort of Mombasa. The woman was Lewthwaite.
It is understood she has had little contact with relatives in Northern Ireland since her conversion to Islam.
Mr Khan said he does not think the speculation surrounding Lewthwaite will cause divisions in Aylesbury due to the community’s maturity.
'Of course if it is Samantha indeed, of course they’ll be very hurt, very upset, as indeed any human being would be, but in terms of causing any differences in our community I think the community is far more mature for that kind of thing,' he said.
Stuart Osborne, who was until recently the Met's Head of Counter Terrorism Command, told ITV News that any role Lewthwaite has with Islamist militant group al-Shabaab is unclear.
He said: ‘Lewthwaite has obviously been involved in terrorism or connected with terrorists for some considerable time now. Her role in al-Shabaab is very unclear or even if she has a role within (it).
‘She is currently wanted by the Kenyan authorities in relation to an investigation for those who have committed acts of terrorism. But as yet she is untried and unconvicted for those offences.
‘Traditionally she would be seen to be somebody as a sympathiser, a facilitator or an instigator of terrorism.
‘She has certainly got a large media profile, certainly in the British media press in relation to her activities and her involvement in terrorist activities is still yet to be proven, but as I said she is still wanted for terrorism
Wanted woman killed in Westgate attack, say UK papers
Samantha Lewthwaite alias Natalie Faye Webb. Photo | FILE
- Claims that Lewthwaite was involved in the attack began on Sunday when a number of British papers told of video footage of the attack on a social networking website which appeared to show a balaclava-clad white woman holding a gun.
By PAUL REDFERN