Friday, March 23, 2012
SHE has been dubbed the "White Widow", a 28-year-old British mother of three, previously married to one of the suicide bombers who wreaked mayhem and murder on London's transport system in July 2005.
A teenage convert to Islam from the town of Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire, whose father was a soldier in the British army, Samantha Lewthwaite went out of her way after the devastating London attacks to denounce the actions of her husband, Germaine Lindsay, a home-grown British terrorist who was within arm's reach of Australian Gill Hicks when he detonated his bomb in a crowded train, killing 26 people and injuring many more.
Poor Samantha, everyone thought, and for a time British police gave her round-the-clock protection amid fears she could be targeted in revenge attacks.
Today, however, the grieving widow who said she abhorred and was surprised by her husband's sudden emergence as an Islamic suicide bomber is the target of a police manhunt across Africa, involving local anti-terrorist forces as well as the CIA, MI5 and other global intelligence agencies.
Lewthwaite is suspected of working with al-Shabaab, the al-Qa'ida
franchise that, under the direction of Osama bin Laden's successor,
Ayman al-Zawahiri, controls vast swaths of Somalia.
accused by Kenyan authorities of being the main financier and chief
bomb-maker in a terrorist cell implicated in a string of attacks and
kidnappings targeting Western interests in the region, and senior Kenyan
police officer Ambrose Munyasya has said: "We are looking for her ... I
have a strong team of officers in anti-terrorism and they are
determined to find her."
Assisting the Kenyans are operatives
from the CIA and MI5. But finding the "White Widow" is unlikely to be
easy. Intelligence reports suggest that, armed with a fake South African
passport, she may have fled, possibly into the badlands of Somalia
controlled by al-Shabaab, there to join a fast-growing band of
foreigners, mostly radicalised young British and American Muslims, known
to be with the militants in a conflict that is causing deepening
concern to Western security chiefs.
More and more, Somalia - a
country that has had no functioning government for 21 years and is
described by British Foreign Secretary William Hague as "the world's
most failed state" - is becoming the new Afghanistan.
ago, Jonathan Evans, head of Britain's MI5, warned that Somalia would
become the new terrorist safe haven and threat to Western interests that
it now is. A number of British students were training with al-Shabaab,
he said, adding that it would be "only a matter of time before we see
terrorism on our streets inspired by those who are today fighting
The allegations against Lewthwaite bear
out Evans's warning and highlight the emergence of the conflict in the
Horn of Africa at centre stage in the battle against global terrorism.
one senior Western security official says, "is winding down in the way
(Barack) Obama said it would. Not in victory for the good guys, but at
least in a way that makes things difficult for the Taliban there and in
Pakistan. Al-Zawahiri has decided Somalia should be the new Afghanistan
and that's why you're now seeing foreign jihadists, who would otherwise
be going to Afghanistan or Pakistan, instead heading to Somalia."
recent days Washington's top soldier in Africa, General Carter Ham, and
the UN Security Council have expressed alarm over the
al-Shabaabal-Qa'ida alliance, with the world body speaking of its "grave
concern" about the threat posed by the jihadists as well as the Somali
pirates working with them to attack shipping off East Africa to raise
millions in ransom money for weapons.
Ham has warned the US
congress not just about Somalia but the extent to which al-Qa'ida is
focused on Africa, with bin Laden's successor personally commanding the
alliance with al-Shabaab and indications, too, of growing unity
involving Boko Haram Islamic militants in oil-rich Nigeria and North
Africa's al-Qa'ida in the Maghreb.
Estimates vary of the strength
of al-Shabaab (its name means "The Boys" or "The Youth"). Most are that
it has between 15,000 and 20,000 well-armed fighters, all hardline
Islamic mujaheddin, whose radicalism, spawned in madrassas, is little
different to that of the Taliban in its determination to kill and maim
indiscriminately in the cause of establishing a sharia law state.
of one million people have died in Somalia since the country's last
government, headed by long-time close Soviet ally Mohamed Siad Barre,
was driven from power in 1991. What was once one of Africa's most
powerful countries, and one of immense strategic importance, has had no
There is, in Mogadishu, the once attractive
capital, what passes for an administration. It is propped up by forces
from the African Union. But it hardly controls even the devastated
wasteland that is the capital. Al-Zawahiri's ruthless mujaheddin control
much of the area surrounding it, as they do vast areas of the south, in
particular, despite Kenya sending in troops to take on the jihadists.
Other areas have claimed their own statehood: Somaliland in the
northwest and Puntland in the northeast.
That Somalia is a mess
is indisputable. It is also a dangerous mess, for the lawlessness and
mayhem provide an ideal breeding ground for Islamic terrorism.
month, in another sign of deepening concern about Somalia and
al-Shabaab, and almost certainly with an eye to the security threat the
jihadists could pose to the London Olympics, British Prime Minister
David Cameron presided over a conference in London attended by 55
nations, including Australia, to discuss Somalia's future.
has been, the British leader pointed out, "more blighted famine,
disease, terrorism and violence" in Somalia than in almost any other
country in the world. The result is the piracy that poses a constant
threat to shipping far from the Somali coastline, and murderous
terrorism by al-Shabaab, including jihadist strikes beyond Somalia's
borders. It has put to flight international aid agencies trying to help
Somalis deal with a devastating famine.
No solutions emerged at
the conference, beyond the usual waffle about the need to "break the
cycle of instability in the world's most dysfunctional state" and the
need for Somalis to decide their own future. In that failure is an
admission that the world appears largely powerless to stop al-Shabaab
and al-Qa'ida seeking to establish a pure Islamic state in Somalia.