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From Home Counties prom queen to world's most wanted womanPosted:

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From Home Counties prom queen to world's most wanted woman: How the 'White Widow' was obsessed with Islam even as a schoolgirl

Samantha Lewthwaite was attending the end-of-year ball at her school in Aylesbury.
She dazzled, by all accounts, in a pink silk ballgown set off by a diamante tiara and matching gold earrings and necklace. She looked fantastic that night, recalled one admirer.
The date was 2001. It was possibly the last time she received such a compliment. Shortly afterwards, at the age of 17, she converted to Islam and began wearing a jilbab, the long flowing robe that covers everything but the hands and face.
This is the story of what happened to her; how, in the space of little more than a decade, the glamorous young lady you see in the photograph became the worlds most wanted female terrorist, a chain of events that culminated in the Nairobi massacre where more than 60 civilians lost their lives.
We still do not know if Lewthwaite, 29, was the white woman survivors say they saw with an AK-47 in one hand and a grenade in the other, or if she is among the dead hostage-takers.
British security officials have yet to receive confirmation from the Kenyan authorities of her role in the attack.
This week, Interpol issued an international arrest warrant, flagged with a high-priority Red Notice, for her in connection with a string of other terrorist outrages over the past two years across the Horn of Africa, where she is known as the white sister or the White Widow.
What is indisputable is that she has blood on her hands. Lewthwaite, who was married to one of the 7/7 bombers, has already been identified as a main recruiter for Al Qaeda in East Africa and is an official spokesman for Al Shabaab, the terror group behind the Nairobi atrocity.
In the wake of 7/7, when her husband Jermaine Lindsay blew himself up along with 26 passengers on a Tube train near Kings Cross Station in London in 2005, she portrayed herself as another victim of the tragedy. Abhorrent, she called it.
She had no knowledge, she said, of his murderous plans, and dreaded the day she would have to tell her own children what their father did.
How cynically empty these protestations of innocence seem now. For our inquiries in her home town of Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire over the past week suggest the marriage of Samantha and Jermaine three years earlier was a union of two already poisoned minds.
Later, in the wake of 7/7, she even tried to radicalise her own family.
According to neighbours, her mother, from Irish Catholic stock, has been seen wearing a hijab an Islamic scarf covering the head.
Yet, Samantha Lewthwaites upbringing, at least to begin with, could not have been a less likely breeding ground for anti-Western extremism.

She was born in 1983, the youngest of three children, in Banbridge, County Down. It says on her birth certificate that her father was a lorry driver.
He is also a former soldier, who served in Northern Ireland during the Seventies at the height of the Troubles. His regiment, the 9/12 Royal Lancers, was stationed in Omagh, close to the scene where the Real IRA slaughtered 29 people in 1998.
Lewthwaite, who came form second generation Irish-Catholic stock, married and Jamaican-born carpet fitter Lindsay Jermain when she was just 18
Lewthwaite, who came form second generation Irish-Catholic stock, married and Jamaican-born carpet fitter Lindsay Jermain when she was just 18
Could there be a more chilling betrayal of the familys proud military past (Samantha Lewthwaites paternal grandfather was also in the Armed Forces) than the revelations emerging from Kenya about the White Widow and her hate-filled Al Shabaab associates?
The Lewthwaites moved from Northern Ireland to Buckinghamshire in the early Nineties.
Aylesbury has a small but thriving Muslim community; the house where the young Samantha grew up was just half a mile from the mosque.
When she was 11, her parents split up, an event that left her devastated. In the aftermath, it seems she was drawn to the strong family ethic of the Muslims who lived around her.
Childhood friends remembered how she spent a couple of summers when she was 11 and 12 hanging around with a mixed group of Muslim and white youngsters in the towns Alfred Rose Memorial Park.
It was here that she developed a crush on a Muslim boy, three or four years older than her. Her feelings were not reciprocated.
She lived in an area with a lot of Muslims. I think that really influenced her, said a friend who knew her throughout her teenage years at the nearby Grange secondary school and into adulthood.
These early experiences developed into an obsession with Islam, an obsession that was witnessed first hand by that friend, who was also white and had a Muslim boyfriend.
That young woman became pregnant by him when she was 17, and they had a second child four years later. Her boyfriend later served time in prison. The two are no longer together and she spoke to the Mail on condition of anonymity.
The friend revealed how she and Samantha Lewthwaite attended gatherings where Muslim preachers would warn them to stay away from kufars (non-Muslims).
She was always much better than me at learning Arabic and reciting the surahs [chapters of the Koran], said the friend.

he was really good at all the learning. Samantha was never embarrassed about anything like I was. If we were in the middle of town, she would just get on her knees and start praying. She was never into drugs or alcohol or anything like that, so she slipped into the Islamic way of doing things very easily.
At school, she had always faded into the background, but suddenly she started to take the lead and would organise talks about being a Muslim and give a lot of advice.
When the friend converted to Islam, Lewthwaite quickly followed suit. I think I influenced her, said the young woman, who is no longer a Muslim. I was never a good Muslim. I only converted because I fell in love with a Muslim. It was different for Samantha. She got much more involved.
Of the 2.7 million Muslims in Britain, an estimated 78,000 are converts, and about a third of that total are white women.
Not long after Lewthwaites conversion, in September, 2002 a year after the 9/11 attacks in New York she enrolled on a degree course in politics and religions at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London.
She dropped out after two months.

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A university spokesman said it is unlikely that her time here had any influence on her beliefs. But SOAS has attracted controversy for giving a platform to Islamic extremists and, like many campuses in Britain, it is seen as a fertile recruiting ground for Islamic groups such as Hizb ut-Tahrir (HuT), which encourages the radicalisation of young Muslims and has acted as a conduit to more hardline organisations.
Of the 126 people convicted of terrorist activity in Britain between 1999 and 2009, more than a quarter had studied at a British university, according to a recent study.
Lewthwaite will now be added to that statistic, no matter how fleeting her time at SOAS.
It was during this time, in fact, that she met Jermaine Lindsay online, in an Islamic chatroom. The couple progressed to speaking on the phone and exchanging photographs.
They met face-to-face for the first time at a Stop The War march in London in 2002. Just weeks later, in October, the two were married by a Muslim elder. They adopted the names Asmantara and Jamal.

Less than six months after their son was born, Lewthwaite and Lindsay or Asmantara and Jamal as they were now known visited Dewsbury in West Yorkshire, where they met Mohammad Sidique Khan, the ringleader of the 7/7 bombers.
Did Lewthwaite also learn bomb-making skills from Khan?
That possibility is a very real one. Kenyan police found bomb-making equipment similar to that used by Khan and his 7/7 co-conspirators, when they raided a property in Mombasa, in 2011.
The same property had been used as a safe house by Lewthwaite while on the run.
It was six days after the 7/7 attacks in London that more than 50 police some armed and wearing bulletprooof vests raided Lewthwaites red-brick semi-detached home where she had been living with Lindsay.
Lewthwaite, pregnant with their second child, was led screaming from the property.

Shortly afterwards, the house was torched in an arson attack. Police believed her story that she had no knowledge of the terrible events involving her husband and placed her in a safe house.
She later moved to a flat in the Elmhurst area of the town, where she lived between 2005 and 2009.
Sam had two young children and towards the end she was pregnant with a third, said a young woman, herself a Muslim convert, who lived opposite her. The identity of the father of the third child is unknown.
She moved out just after she had the third baby in 2009. She didnt say she was leaving. She was a very private person, but you could always hear the children screaming and she would scream back. She did not seem to have any affection for them at all.
Almost three years after leaving Aylesbury, Lewthwaite surfaced in Kenya.
In December 2011, it emerged that Kenyan police were hunting her, by now the mother of a fourth child, over a plot to blow up hotels and shopping centres in Mombasa.
I would be shocked if Samantha was actually inside the Nairobi mall because I dont think she would risk getting killed and leaving her children without any parents, said the friend who grew up with her in Aylesbury.
But while she may not be willing to sacrifice her own children for her all-consuming faith, how many other children have the White Widow and her accomplices killed or left orphaned?

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