The name of Samantha Lewthwaite, dubbed the White Widow by the British media, has been widely associated with the massacre in Nairobi, but there is no evidence of her involvement in the attack.
Ms Lewthwaite, a 29-year-old Muslim convert from the UK, is the widow of Germaine Lindsay, who blew himself up in the July 2005 bombings in London. She is wanted by Kenyan authorities on suspicion of possession of explosives and conspiracy to commit a felony in an Islamist bomb plot to target western holidaymakers on the Kenyan coast in December 2011.
Another Briton, Jermaine Grant, is currently on trial in Mombasa for involvement in the same plot. He is accused of storing bomb-making material at a house in the city.
A report by the UN monitoring group on Somalia describes Mr Grant as “a self-styled al-Qaeda affiliate” who is associated with the Kenyan Islamist group, al-Hijra, which has links to Somalia’s al-Shabaab, the group that has claimed responsibility for the attack on the Westgate shopping centre. The same UN report says al-Hijra has been seeking to carry out large-scale attacks in Kenya.
Ms Lewthwaite has not been seen by authorities since 2011, and following this week’s siege in Nairobi,Interpol issued a “red notice” warrant for her arrest atKenya’s request in connection with the 2011 bomb plot.
Western intelligence officials say there is no evidence at all that Ms Lewthwaite was involved either in the planning or execution of the Westgate attack. One official noted that although Interpol has put out an alert for her arrest, the Interpol warrant makes no direct reference to last week’s attack.
Ms Lewthwaite has previously travelled on a South African passport under the name of Natalie Faye Webb. “It was cancelled in 2011 because it was found to be acquired fraudulently,” South Africa’s home affairs minister Naledi Pandor said on Thursday.
Ms Pandor said the passport was no longer a legal document and if it appeared anywhere, it would be regarded as an illegal travel document.
Although several witnesses report seeing women among the attackers in the Westgate mall, al-Shabaab denies sending women to carry out the attack, saying “we do not recruit our sisters in such military operations”.
The Kenyan government at first claimed the attackers were all male but that some wore women’s clothes. Later foreign minister Amina Mohamed referred to a British woman who was experienced in terror attacks and blamed the global al-Qaeda network, rather than al-Shabaab, for the siege.