By Alexandria Sage
Interpol issued a wanted persons alert at Kenya’s request on Thursday for Samantha Lewthwaite, a British citizen dubbed the “White Widow”, without mentioning any suspected role in the Nairobi mall attack.
The international police agency’s so-called “red alert” notice said Lewthwaite, 29, is wanted by Kenya on charges of possession of explosives and conspiracy to commit a felony dating back to December 2011.
Lewthwaite, also believed to use the alias ‘Natalie Webb’, is the widow of Germaine Lindsay, one of the Islamist bombers who carried out attacks on public transport in London in July 2005. She is thought to have left Britain several years ago.
Interpol said it had received the request from Kenyan authorities on Wednesday and had issued a first alert to its 190 member countries immediately. The agency, based in Lyon, France, added photographs on Thursday showing Lewthwaite in a headscarf and with her hair uncovered.
British police have cited Lewthwaite as a possible suspect in Saturday’s attack on a Nairobi shopping mall by Islamists from Somalia’s al Shabaab movement.
The four-day mall siege, which ended on Tuesday, killed 61 civilians, six members of the security forces, and five militants, according to officials.
Some witnesses said women were among the attackers, but al Shabaab denied on its Twitter feed using “our sisters” in its military operations.
In Washington, U.S. officials involved in the investigation said there was no hard evidence implicating Lewthwaite or any other British or U.S. nationals in participating in the attack.
Lewthwaite is wanted by Kenya in connection with a bombing plot targeting luxury hotels and restaurants that involved another Briton, east Londoner Jermaine Grant.
Grant, who police said has suspected ties to al Shabaab, was arrested in a December 2011 raid along with a female accomplice, Warda Breik, who police said was his wife.
Police said a third suspect, believed to be Lewthwaite, escaped in that raid. Grant and Warda are on trial charged with possession of explosives recovered from their apartment, and conspiracy to commit a felony, both of which they have denied.
South African Interior Minister Naledi Pandor told a news conference in Pretoria on Thursday that Lewthwaite had entered South Africa in July 2008 with an illegal passport, which she last used in February 2011.
Kenyans officials had not contacted South Africa in relation to Lewthwaite since the Nairobi mall attack, she said.
On Thursday, Kenyan security officials, joined by experts from the United States, Britain and Israel, continued to scour the Westgate mall for clues from the well-planned attack, as the army combed the building for explosives.
An Interpol spokeswoman clarified that the notice was not an international warrant for Lewthwaite’s arrest.
“Through the Interpol Red Notice, 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,” Interpol Secretary Ronald Noble said in a statement.
South African television station ENCA said credit records showed Lewthwaite racked up debts of nearly 30,000 rand ($3,000) to two leading South African banks during her time in the country and owed nearly $1,000 to two clothing stores.
Radio reports said she worked as an IT specialist for a halal pie shop in Lenasia, a south Johannesburg suburb known for its Muslim population.