The newest Netflix documentary series to drop on the streaming platform is World’s Most Wanted, which explores five of the world’s most notorious fugitives. One of the episodes focuses on Samantha Lewthwaite, a British terror suspect who is sometimes known as the White Widow.
Somali security chiefs say that Lewthwaite is responsible for over 400 deaths and she is believed to be a member of the al-Shabaab terrorist organization, the Telegraph reported. In 2013, Interpol issued a red notice warrant for her arrest and she is now considered one of the West’s most wanted terrorism suspects.
Lewthwaite was born in Northern Ireland before her family moved to England, where she was raised. Although born a Christian, as a teenager she converted to Islam and adopted the Muslim name Sherafiyah. The 36-year-old mother of four has not been in contact with her family in England for years as she has been moving around East Africa with her children, evading law enforcement.
Here’s what you need to know about Samantha Lewthwaite’s family:
1. Her Parents Are Andy Lewthwaite & Christine Allen & She Was Born in Northern Ireland
Lewthwaite was born Samantha Lousie Lewthwaite on December 5, 1983, in Banbridge, County Down, U.K. Her father, Andy Lewthwaite, was an English soldier who met her Irish Catholic mother, Christine Allen, in the 1970s while he was serving in Northern Ireland. The family moved to Aylesbury, England, when Lewthwaite, the youngest of three children, was still a young girl.
She attended Elmhurst primary school and The Grange secondary school and people who knew her said she was intelligent and popular. An Aylesbury councilor told the BBC: “I knew her when she was a child. She was very innocent, lacking confidence, shy and very easy to get on with. She was a follower not a leader.” One Daily Mail article wrote that she used to “put on a tiara and jewellery to go to school discos.”
In 2013, news outlets reported that Lewthwaite’s grandmother, Elizabeth Allen, had been admitted to the hospital in Banbridge, County Down, over stress at her granddaughter’s status as a fugitive. Law enforcement officials had given her a panic alarm that she was asked to use if her granddaughter made contact with her. The family’s friends told media that Lewthwaite’s notoriety and the stress of the situation have impacted Allen’s physical and mental health.
2. Lewthwaite Appeared to Turn to Islam After Her Parents Split in the Early 1990s
Family friends told media that she was affected by her parents’ split in 1995 and she began spending more time with a local Muslim family. When she was 11 or 12, she spent her summers with a group of Muslim and white children at a local park, one childhood friend said.
The Christian-born Lewthwaite then began taking Islam more seriously, officially converting at the age of 15 and taking the name Sherafiyah. She started wearing the hijab and spending more time with other women who had converted to Islam. One teacher at her secondary school said, “She seemed to be really proud wearing the hijab, there was a bubbly feeling around her.” He said a few years later, she began wearing the full-length robe “which some converts tend to do when they become more serious.”
In 2002, she attended the School of Oriental and African Studies in London and studied politics and religions, but dropped out before finishing the course. Her classmates said she told them at the time that she wanted to “find a Muslim husband and settle down.”
3. She Married Germaine Lindsay in 2002 & Was Widowed 3 Years Later When He Participated in a Coordinated Suicide Bomb of the London Underground
Lewthwaite met her future husband Germaine Lindsay in an Islamic chat room. Lindsay was born in Jamaica but grew up in Huddersfield, England, before converting to Islam at the age of 15 or 16. Lewthwaite and Lindsay met face-to-face for the first time at a “Stop the War” march in London. The couple married soon after their first meeting, in October 2002, although Lewthwaite’s parents didn’t attend the wedding because they did not approve of her religious conversion, family friends told the Telegraph. Lindsay was only 17 at the time of their wedding.
Lindsay and Lewthwaite lived together for a time in Huddersfield before moving to Aylesbury, central England, in September 2003. Lindsay worked for a time as a carpet fitter and also sold mobile phone covers at a market, the Guardian wrote. In April 2004, Lewthwaite gave birth to their first child, a son named Abdullah.
Then, on July 7, 2005, the 19-year-old Lindsay became one of four suicide bombers who attacked the London Underground in coordinated terror attacks. Fifty-two people died in the attacks, with Lindsay killing 26 people in his suicide attack. At the time of his death, Lewthwaite was eight months pregnant with their second child, a daughter.
She condemned the attacks publicly, saying his actions were “abhorrent.” However, soon after his death she left England and has since been linked by intelligence services to numerous terror attacks and plots in East Africa.
4. She Has Been Married at Least Twice Since, Although There Are Conflicting Reports About the Identities of Her Other Husbands
Since Lindsay’s death, Lewthwaite’s whereabouts have been murky, to say the least. Although some public information about her life is clear, there is a lot that is still unknown, including her relationships. There are a couple of different reports about the identity of her other husbands and how many times she’s been married.
The Telegraph reported that her second husband was Abdi Wahid, a Kenyan naval officer who became a terrorist. The Mirror reported that their marriage ended when Wahid left to fight for al-Shabaab and she married senior al-Shabaab commander Hassan Maalim Ibrahim in 2014. Their sources say that it was Lewthwaite’s third marriage, after Lindsay and Wahid.
To make matters more complicated, in a contradictory report from 2014, the Telegraph wrote that Lewthwaite was married to Fahmi Jamal Salim, a Kenyan man with strong ties to al-Qaeda. That outlet wrote that the two met in South Africa in 2008 after being introduced by a radical Muslim preacher.
She is also sometimes said to have married a fellow Brit, bomb-maker Habib Ghani of Middlesex, who died in Somalia in 2013. A source for the Telegraph refuted that claim, however: “Ghani is definitely connected to Samantha, but not in a romantic way, they were associates in the same cell in Mombasa that was intending to set off bombs in December 2011,” an anti-terror officer said.
5. She Has Given Birth to Four Children, But the Details of Their Lives Are Scarce
According to publicly available information, Lewthwaite is the mother of four children. Her first husband, Lindsay, was the father of her two oldest children. Their son Abdullah was born in April 2004 and their daughter Ruqayyah was born in 2005, just weeks after her father’s death as a suicide bomber. The Daily Mail reported that their middle names are Shaheed and Shahidah respectively, the male and female words for martyr.
In 2009, Lewthwaite traveled back to Aylesbury where she gave birth to a third child, a son named Abdur-Rahman. The name of her third child’s father has not been provided, and Lewthwaite did not contact her family when she was back in England. In 2010, Lewthwaite gave birth to a fourth child, a daughter named Surajah, at a private health clinic in South Africa.
There are conflicting reports of the identity of the father of her two youngest children. Some reports indicate that Salim (a possible husband) is the father of her third and fourth child while other reports claim that Wahid (another possible husband) is the father of her fourth child, with the third child’s father unknown.
In a police raid of a Kenyan safe house where Lewthwaite was staying, law enforcement officials found pages of a manuscript and diary belonging to the 36-year-old in which she claimed she would raise her children as terrorists also. They also found her laptop, which contained selfies and photos with her children.
Lewthwaite wrote about one night when her husband gave her children a lesson about waging war against non-Muslims and what they could do to take action to follow that path. She wrote that stories of jihad could be appropriate to share with her children at bedtime. “It was my husband’s talk to the kids and then reading the Women’s Role in Jihad that made it clear it was time to put pen to paper and share with others what I was blessed with,” she wrote.