Samantha Lewthwaite: Missing widow of the 7/7 bomber
- 5 April 2012
- From the section UK
Samantha Lewthwaite, the widow of 7/7 bomber Germaine Lindsay, is wanted by Kenyan authorities investigating a terrorism plot. BBC Radio 4's The Report explores her early life growing up in suburban Buckinghamshire.
Outside the Aylesbury Ghausia mosque, children cycle by while gardeners potter about in the surrounding well-tended allotments. A picture of suburban contentment.
There is disbelief here that Samantha Lewthwaite, who has spent much of her life in the town, could be involved in any terrorist plot.
"The personality in the Samantha I knew is not the one I see on an international platform, it's not the little girl I knew," says Raj Khan, a local councillor who has known her for decades.
"She was a jolly child, a jolly friend, a really good person… well respected in the Pakistani and Muslim community and she was a really good human being," he told Radio 4's The Report.
Samantha Lewthwaite grew up in a modest terraced house in a quiet narrow street where neighbours still seem to know one another.
She became friendly with a local Muslim family who helped her to convert to Islam when she was 15.
Niknam Hussein knows the family well: "She was the one who initiated becoming a Muslim, the father of that family was a very well known and pious man… she wanted to do it because maybe he was a good example."
At the Grange School in Aylesbury, Samantha, as a new Muslim convert, stood out, according to Novid Shaid who taught there.
He said: "She seemed to be really proud wearing the hijab, there was a bubbly feeling around her."
After a few years, says Mr Shaid, "we noticed her wearing the full galabiya (full-length robe) which some converts tend to do when they become more serious."
Samantha Lewthwaite's interest in religion developed further when she enrolled in a degree course in politics and the study of religions in 2002 at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.
She also met the man who would change her life, fellow Muslim convert Germaine Lindsay - who was to later carry out a suicide attack on the London Underground on 7 July, 2005, killing 26 people.
The couple married a few months after meeting, in an Islamic ceremony, in the front room of the Muslim family whom she had become close to.
One of the daughters in the family told The Report how the newly-wed couple would come to their house and Germaine Lindsay would play outside with the younger children.
Novid Shaid says the couple had a strong influence on the children of their friends.
"The children loved them, they were seen as role models… the young ethnic Muslims seeing them regularly looked up to them, they were Muslims, full of beans and a good kind of influence on them."
After the 7/7 bombings Samantha Lewthwaite was given police protection after the house she was living in was fire-bombed. She also gave birth to her first child.
"She was an innocent party, it was totally unbeknown to her," remembers Niknam Hussein, a councillor in Aylesbury who knew Samantha through her contacts with the Muslim community.
"If you tell me again that these sort of things emanate from Aylesbury, I'd be totally gob-smacked."
After she came out of police protection Samantha went back to Aylesbury.
Still a devout Muslim, she was no longer getting her spiritual guidance from the local mosque, where Novid Shaid is a member of the committee.
"It's a source of real regret for many of us that we didn't try harder to connect with Sam," he concedes.
"For a convert there is a definite risk if they don't have the right support they can be picked out very quickly by terrorist groups. It is a fear that we have for people like that."
Police will be trying to piece together her movements in Aylesbury and whether she was targeted by radical Islamic groups.
Keith Vaz MP, chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, told the BBC: "We should use this case as a benchmark to decide whether we need to do more to monitor those with connections with persons we are interested in, who may provide us with important information on the way which they pursue their ends."
"Clearly this is someone going in and out of the country, it is important to monitor those who go abroad - we were told 50 Britons out of 200 foreigners fighting for Al-Shabab are involved in these activities."
Conservative MP Patrick Mercer has written to Home Secretary Theresa May to ask for a full explanation of why Samantha Lewthwaite has been able to disappear without the knowledge of British security services.
He said: "I think this has the makings of a significant scandal.
"If we are talking about someone who's been intimate, very, very closely involved with a well-known and proven terrorist, and the fact that she's able to disappear off the radar and then come back having been radicalised that does worry me."
Former friend Raj Khan will only pass judgement on the girl he knew if she is charged with terrorist activity.
"She could be led but she's not a leader… I think if anything she's been pushed into it, threatened into it but not doing it willingly."
For the past three months the woman thought to be Samantha Lewthwaite has been missing after crossing from Kenya into Tanzania on Boxing Day with her three young children.
Niknam Hussein says there are many questions he wants answered about the case, but his principle concern is for her safety: "My biggest fear and worry is for Samantha and her children."
It is only when she comes forward that the full story of her supposed connection to a terrorist plot will emerge but sources within the Kenyan anti-terrorist police have told the BBC when she is found she will be charged with helping terrorist activity.