LONDON — Interpol asked police forces worldwide to seek and arrest the widow of a London Underground suicide bomber after Kenya charged her with possession of explosives and conspiracy to a felony.
A so-called red notice was issued by the Lyon, France-based international police organization for Samantha Lewthwaite, a British citizen nicknamed the White Widow by British tabloids. She had fraudulently obtained a South African passport in the name of Natalie Webb, according to Thursday’s Interpol statement.
Newspapers in Africa and Britain have speculated that Lewthwaite was involved in this week’s raid on a Kenyan mall in which at least 67 people and five attackers died. Kenyan Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed told U.S. broadcaster PBS that a British woman who has “done this many times before” was involved in the attack. There’s been no official confirmation on Lewthwaite’s involvement.
The Somali-based militia al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for Kenya’s deadliest attack in 15 years, which began when gunmen stormed the upscale Westgate mall in Nairobi on Sept. 21, lobbing grenades and spraying gunfire. Al-Shabaab leader Ahmed Godane warned of “more bloodshed” unless Kenya withdraws its forces from Somalia, where they’re deployed to combat the Islamist group.
Lewthwaite, the daughter of a British soldier, was married to Jamaica-born Germaine Lindsay, who like her was a Muslim convert. He was one of the four perpetrators of the July 7, 2005 attacks on London’s transport network, exploding a device on the Piccadilly Line between King’s Cross and Russell Square, killing 26 people.
Using Webb’s identity, Lewthwaite traveled in and out of South Africa between July 2008 and February 2011, when the passport was canceled, Home Affairs Minister Naledi Pandor told reporters Thursday in Pretoria. Webb’s British family didn’t immediately respond to telephone messages seeking comment.
Lewthwaite rented a property in the Muslim-dominated area of Mayfair in Johannesburg, according to publicly available rental records. She leased another property in Bromhof in northern Johannesburg. A man who lives near the house identified her from photographs shown to him by a Bloomberg reporter, saying he’d frequently seen her though they’d only spoken once and he didn’t know her by name. He declined to be identified citing concern about his security.
Kenyan authorities said earlier Thursday that they’ve shared a list of suspects in the mall attack with Interpol, without identifying them. Forensic investigators at the scene are being assisted by experts from Israel, the U.S., Germany, Canada and Britain in a probe that’s expected to last at least a week, according to Interior Secretary Joseph Ole Lenku.
Interpol said the charges against Lewthwaite in Kenya date to December 2011. It wasn’t immediately clear why the issuing of the international warrant was delayed until now.
“Through the Interpol red notice, Kenyan authorities have ensured that all 190 member countries are aware of the danger posed by this woman,” Secretary-General Ronald Noble said in the statement.
Kenya’s relative stability in a troubled region has attracted companies including Toyota Motor and Google to set up bases in the East African nation. The United Nations’ African headquarters are also in Nairobi.
— With assistance from David Malingha Doya and Sarah McGregor in Nairobi, and Amogelang Mbatha and Christopher Spillane in Johannesburg.