LONDON — Interpol, acting on a Kenyan request, issued an arrest notice Thursday for Samantha Lewthwaite, the fugitive Briton whom news media have dubbed the “white widow.”
Lewthwaite, 29, is a Muslim convert whose first husband participated in the 2005 London suicide bombings that killed 52 commuters on subways and a bus. Kenyan authorities want her in connection to a 2011 plot to bomb holiday resorts there.
Officials have not presented any evidence linking her to the terrorist attack on an upscale Nairobi shopping mall, and the Interpol notice did not mention it. But comments from Kenya’s foreign minister that a British woman was involved led some U.K. news media to speculate that Lewthwaite participated in the attack, which killed scores of people.
The Interpol notice said Lewthwaite is wanted on charges of possessing explosives and conspiracy to commit a felony in December 2011.
If she indeed embraced the jihadi cause, it would mark a dramatic turnaround for the grieving widow who originally criticized her late husband, Jermaine Lindsay, for taking part in the London transit attacks.
She told The Sun newspaper two months after the attacks that her husband had fallen under the influence of imams at radical mosques.
“How these people could have turned him and poisoned his mind is dreadful,” she was quoted as saying. “He was an innocent, naive and simple man. I suppose he must have been an ideal candidate.
He was so angry when he saw Muslim civilians being killed on the streets of Iraq, Bosnia, Palestine and Israel – and always said it was the innocent who suffered.”
Lewthwaite, the daughter of a former British soldier, was born in Northern Ireland and grew up in Aylesbury, a commuter hub northwest of London.
She converted to Islam – reportedly while in her teens – and went on to study religion and politics at the School Of Oriental and African Studies in London. It was around that time she met Lindsay, first in an Internet chat room and later at a London demonstration against the war in Iraq.
The coupled married in an Islamic ceremony on Oct. 30, 2002, and moved back to Aylesbury a year later.
Local city councilor Raj Khan, who knew Lewthwaite in her early teens and ran into her again shortly before the subway bombings, told The Associated Press she was a “normal, average British girl” who was shy and lacked confidence.
“She was going through the journey of becoming a Muslim,” he said. “There was no sense of radicalization, and no feeling among people that she showed signs of radicalization.”
Khan said he lost touch with her for about 10 years and met her again after she married Lindsay. The couple approached him in the city center and asked if he could help them find subsidized housing.
“She seemed the same soft-spoken girl, becoming a mature young lady,” he said. “I asked them to come see me in my office in the next three or four weeks, with the relevant documents, and the next thing I knew was the 7/7 bombings. After that she went into obvious hiding. No communication was made.”
He said he thinks of her as a follower, not a leader.
Fifteen days after the London attacks, Lewthwaite gave birth to the couple’s second child, a daughter. In the immediate aftermath of the bombings, she insisted that her husband – a carpet fitter – “wasn’t the sort of person who’d do this.”
After it became clear the Jamaica-born Briton had been involved, Lewthwaite condemned the attacks – and then stayed largely out of view until March 2012, when her name surfaced in a Kenyan investigation into terror funding.
Officials at first said they were looking for someone using her identity – then later said they were looking for her. They alleged that Lewthwaite and other foreigners traveled to Kenya in late 2011 to plan a bomb attack on the Kenyan coast over the Christmas holidays.
Authorities said Lewthwaite — who was pregnant by her new Kenyan husband — was in charge of finances for the planned attack, and suspected she had rented several houses in upmarket areas in Mombasa to assemble a bomb.
The group was allegedly collaborating with Kenyans sympathetic to al-Shabab, the Somalia-based al-Qaida affiliate that has claimed responsibility for the Kenyan mall attack.
Kenyan anti-terrorism police suspected Lewthwaite was working with Musa Hussein Abdi, who was shot dead with an al-Qaida boss in Somalia in June 2011. In December 2011, they found a woman they believed to be Lewthwaite in his house but let her go after she showed them a South African passport.
Police later realized the passport was fraudulent and returned to the house, but she was gone.
Officials believe she fled to Somalia that same month. They have accused her of plotting to break an alleged accomplice out of jail in Kenya. Since then, it also has emerged that she spent time in South Africa before popping up on Kenyan authorities’ radar.