Sunday, September 29, 2013

How SA let 'White Widow' slip away

Samantha Lewthwaite, who is believed to have been one of the masterminds in the Nairobi shopping mall atrocity, was in the cross hairs of South African intelligence for at least three years. But, in spite of her using a false passport in South Africa, she was able to slip out of the country in February 2011. Since then the 29-year-old mother of three, dubbed the "White Widow" by British media, has managed to elude key intelligence agencies, including those of South Africa, the US and Britain. Lewthwaite, at the time pregnant with her second child, was given her nickname when her husband, Germaine Lindsay, killed 26 people in a suicide bomb attack in London in 2005. She expressed remorse for the attack, but now appears to have thrown in her lot with Somali extremists. Interpol issued an international arrest warrant for her this week in connection with a 2011 criminal case in Kenya. Although she was not linked directly to the deadly Westgate attack in Nairobi, international investigators are convinced that Lewthwaite is the chief financier, recruiter, coach and trainer for al-Shabab in East Africa. Lewthwaite travelled in and out of South Africa, held down a R24500-a-month job, rented a house in suburban Johannesburg and ran up debts totalling more than R60000. Reports of Lewthwaite's possible link to the Westgate attack were sparked when Kenyan Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed said a "British woman" was involved . New reports yesterday claimed she may have been stationed in a "secret lair" close to the mall. The Sunday Times has confirmed through two independent intelligence sources that Lewthwaite was flagged locally as a person of interest when she landed in South Africa on a Virgin Atlantic flight in 2010. She was monitored at the request of two foreign intelligence agencies and was suspected of having links to a wanted al-Shabab bomb-maker, Habib Ghani. Ghani is believed to have been killed by one of his own bombs in a remote village in Somalia two weeks ago. Local intelligence officers confirmed that her arrival and movements were documented and that she had lived with a Cape Town family for two months and later surfaced in Johannesburg. "We handed the information over to the FBI," said a source. State Security Ministry spokesman Brian Dube would not confirm or deny whether it had, at the behest of foreign intelligence agencies, monitored her, saying: "Confirming or denying the nature of our investigations would be self-defeating because it will compromise the very same work that we do." What was seemingly not known when the local operation on Lewthwaite started in 2010 was that the elusive Briton had already obtained a South African identity document and passport through a "late registration of birth" process. The Sunday Times has confirmed that she signed a lease agreement with property agency Chas Everitt in November 2009 - as Natalie Faye Webb, an employee of a halaal pie business then registered in Lenasia. She lived in the three-bedroom house in a quiet cul-de-sac in Bromhof, northern Johannesburg, until August 2010, when the lease expired. She left the country four months later. The estate agency was visited by the Hawks last year. They wanted information on Lewthwaite, including copies of the ID, bank statements and pay slips she provided to secure the property. Chas Everitt's Randburg manager, Dave Pride, said that although he never met Lewthwaite, he was told by staff that she was an "ordinary person". Her R24500 salary was paid directly into her Standard Bank account. "I'm told she was just like everyone else, nothing out of the ordinary. Her bank account and details she gave us all checked out ... She fell behind on the rent at one stage, but caught up and when she moved out she didn't owe anything," he said. The current occupants of the Bromhof property said they were shocked to learn the home was once occupied by the notorious "White Widow". Other neighbours said she was a loner and was rarely seen outside. Two of them said they had seen Lewthwaite with a nanny at times. A woman who lives with her two children in the Bromhof house that Lewthwaite occupied said: "We were watching this Kenya story unfold on the TV and two days later we hear this woman, whose face is all over, lived here. It feels surreal." The main tenant said: "I find myself lying in bed at night wondering if she was lying here planning these attacks." Home Affairs Minister Naledi Pandor said records showed that Lewthwaite first arrived in South Africa in 2008. She left the country in February 2011 as Natalie Faye Webb. Pressed for details, home affairs deputy director-general for immigration services Jackie McKay said he did not have the "clearance" to provide them . On Thursday, Interpol issued an international arrest warrant for Lewthwaite in connection with the 2011 criminal case. It stems from a raid on a property in Mombasa in December 2011 when the police found explosives, AK47 ammunition and Lewthwaite's fake South African passport. She is being tried in absentia along with another British national. Although present when the police pounced, Lewthwaite got away by pretending to be South African Natalie Webb. Meanwhile, Kenyan authorities continue to count the cost of the deadly four-day standoff with the militants. By yesterday, more than 70 people were confirmed dead and close to 200 injured. The local Red Cross said at least 61 were still missing. Cape Town businessman James Thomas was among the 18 foreigners killed. He is scheduled to be buried on Wednesday. There has been some international criticism about the fact that the Kenyans requested the Interpol red notice only in the aftermath of the Westgate attack. It has now also emerged that the Kenyan government had been warned of an attack to be launched in September and that it had failed to act on the warning. Lewthwaite's stay in South Africa is one of a number of signs that point to an a l-Shabab presence in the country: In May 2010, the Sunday Times revealed that local intelligence services were accused of being slow to react to warnings that al-Qaeda and al-Shabab operatives were planning an attack during the World Cup; Hillary Clinton, US secretary of state at the time, met Minister of International Relations Maite Nkoana-Mashabane in 2009 and warned that al-Shabab was recruiting in South Africa. She said the minister was also aware of this; In 2009, intelligence sources also told of a threat to the US embassy in Pretoria. It allegedly originated from a public phone in the Southgate mall in Johannesburg. Another call was made to parliament; and Just before the 2010 World Cup, intelligence agencies told the Sunday Times that they had intercepted a telephone call from Khayelitsha in the Western Cape to known members of al-Shabab. During the recorded conversation, the parties discussed an alleged plot " to blow up American interests". Somali expatriates in Mayfair, Johannesburg, told the Sunday Times that they feared the al-Shabab link to the Kenyan attack could be damaging for their community. "It's not fair that there's been fear here this week because people did bad things elsewhere," said businessman Said Abdullah. -

No comments:

Post a Comment