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December 13, 2013

Mysterious 'white widow' eludes police in Africa

(Continued)

"We're at a loss."

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Samantha Louise Lewthwaite was born on May 12, 1983, in the violence-scarred British territory of Northern Ireland, where her father was a British Army soldier and her mother an Irish Catholic — the Ulster equivalent of star-crossed lovers.

Before Samantha reached age 6 the family moved to Aylesbury, where her father worked as a truck driver until the couple's separation.

Raj Khan, a former Aylesbury mayor who knew Lewthwaite and her family, said she forged strong bonds with the city's Muslims, a group that includes many resettled Pakistanis. She converted to Islam as a teenager.

"Living in the neighborhood, she became very friendly," said Khan. "She came to enjoy the hospitality of the Muslim community."

Khan said Lewthwaite, through one of her girlfriends, became particularly close to a Muslim family that facilitated her conversion.

"The people who helped her were very pious, respectable, mainstream Muslims with no sign of radicalism," he said. "She would have understood it as a religion of peace that does not allow radicalism or killing."

Her embrace of Islam generated little notice, nor did her marriage in 2002 to Jermaine Lindsay, a British Muslim with Jamaican roots whom she first met in an Internet chat room and later in person at a demonstration against the war in Iraq.

And yet, on July 7, 2005, her husband stepped onto a subway train and blew himself up as part of an attack that killed 52 civilians and three other bombers.

It was the most lethal terrorist attack ever on the British mainland, marking a "before and after" divide in the country's halting embrace of a multicultural society — since it was the work of British Muslims, not extremists from afar.

Aylesbury residents were unaware of Lindsay's role until dozens of heavily armed police descended on Lewthwaite's house just six days after the bombing. She became a national figure that night, viewed not as an Islamic extremist but as a wronged young mother, pregnant with her second child, shocked to discover that her husband had been part of a terrorist plot.

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