A top Kenyan police official said Tuesday that a pregnant British woman believed to be the widow of one of the July 7, 2005, London bombers has fled the country for lawless Somalia, where she is believed to have connections to an al-Qaida-linked militia.
The police official said Samantha Lewthwaite is part of a group of British citizens and other foreign nationals who arrived in Kenya last year to plan a bomb attack on the Kenyan coast over Christmas and New Year’s. Lewthwaite was in charge of finances for the planned attack, he said.
Officials believe Lewthwaite has fled to Somalia, the police official said. Lewthwaite is connected to the aide of East Africa’s top al-Qaida operative. Both men were killed in Somalia last year and she is on the run.
The group was allegedly collaborating with Kenyans sympathetic to the al-Qaida-linked Somali militant group al-Shabab, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to publicly release the information.
Al-Shabab has vowed to launch attacks in Kenya in retaliation for Kenyan troops crossing into Somalia in October. Kenya blames al-Shabab for cross-border attacks in which at least 10 Kenyans and four Europeans were kidnapped.
Earlier this year al-Qaida announced it had merged with al-Shabab, Somalia’s most dangerous militant group.
Lewthwaite is the widow of Jermaine Lindsay, one of the bombers who took part in the London attack that killed 52 people and wounded more than 700.
The police official said Anti-Terrorism Police Unit officers suspect Lewthwaite was working with Musa Hussein Abdi, the Kenyan man who was shot dead with al-Qaida boss Fazul Abdullah Mohammed in Somalia in June.
Anti-terror police found a British woman – believed to be Lewthwaite – in Abdi’s house in Dec 20 but let her go after being fooled by the fake South African passport she carried in the name of Rachel Faye Webb. The official said police went to Abdi’s house while retracing the steps of Jermaine Grant, another British national who arrived in Kenya in last year.
The official said Grant was arrested earlier that day after police trailed him following a tip-off that he was involved in the planned attack. When police searched Grant’s house, they found bomb-making materials, the official said.
Later that day, the officers led Grant to Abdi’s nearby house, where they found his widow and a British woman who produced a passport in Webb’s name.
The officers released both women but were ordered to return to the scene by their bosses. By then the foreign woman was gone. The real Webb is a nurse in the U.K. who has dual British and South African citizenship and is a victim of identity theft, he said.
Police suspect that Lewthwaite rented two houses in upmarket areas in Mombasa in order to assemble a bomb. Police believe al-Shabab still intends to launch a terror attack in Kenya.
Lewthwaite is pregnant, the official said, and remarried to a Kenyan who has fled the country.
Mohammed – the al-Qaida mastermind behind the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania – topped the FBI’s most wanted list for 13 years before his death last year. He was also linked to the 2002 bombing of a tourist hotel at the Kenyan coast and a near-simultaneous attempt to bring down an Israeli jetliner.
Grant was jailed for three years for immigration offenses and lying to a government official about his identity. He is also charged with conspiring to commit a felony and possessing explosive materials. His Kenyan wife, whom he married just 24 hours before his arrest, has also been charged.