THE friends and family of a radicalised British housewife from Buckinghamshire have reacted with shock and disbelief to claims she is behind the Kenyan shopping mall massacre.
Speculation is rife that suspect Samantha Lewthwaite, who was married to 7 July 2005 suicide bomber Jermaine Lindsay, was one of the masterminds behind the atrocity that has claimed more than 60 lives.
Dubbed the “White Widow”, the 29-year-old mother of three is the daughter of English soldier Andy Lewthwaite, who married Irish Catholic Christine Allen while serving in Northern Ireland during the 1970s. She had an unremarkable childhood in Banbridge, Co Down, before moving to Aylesbury. In 1995 her parents split up.
After converting to Islam at 17, Lewthwaite changed her name to Sherafiyah and married Lindsay, who detonated a bomb at King’s Cross Tube station, killing 26 people.
At the time she claimed to have been horrified by the killings, but in 2009 disappeared with her three children and resurfaced two years later, after travelling to Kenya on a false passport.
In Aylesbury, there was disbelief that the “average, British, ordinary young girl” who was a “follower, not a leader” could have gone on to mastermind extremist acts.
Councillor Raj Khan, who knew Lewthwaite socially, said she was “pleasant and courteous” and had a “great personality” but lacked 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,” Mr Khan said.
Niknam Hussain, a former mayor of Aylesbury and current chairman of the independent advisory group at Thames Valley Police, also knew Lewthwaite. He said: “I’m astonished and amazed. I can’t believe it’s true. Until they provide us with proof, I think it’s innocent until proven guilty, to be honest.”
Mr Hussain added: “To ascribe a level of sophistication that she could control a whole terrorist empire, I’m sorry, I don’t think Tom Clancy could write anything like that.”
Mr Hussain also knew Lindsay, and described him as seeming “perfectly normal”.
Those who knew Lewthwaite as a youngster insisted she was not linked in any way to the Jamia Ghausia Mosque nor to the mainstream Muslim community in Aylesbury, despite her desire to “learn Islam quite deeply”.
She met Lindsay, a Jamaican-born convert, on an Islamic chatroom.
Brought up by his mother in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, where he alarmed his teachers by attempting to radicalise impressionable younger pupils, he went on to carry out the suicide bombing.