Was ‘World’s Most Wanted’ Samantha Lewthwaite, “born into terror” as the new Netflix series claims?
It’s not unusual for Northern Ireland to be associated with terrorism given it’s past, but does just being born there make you more likely to be linked with Islamic terror? Yes, according to a new Netflix television series.
Anyone in the UK sitting down to watch the third episode of Netflix’s new documentary series, World’s Most Wanted,will likely be or at least slightly aware of its subject, Samantha Louise Lewthwaite.
Also know by her tabloid nickname of ‘The White Widow’ Samantha dominated the headlines after the 7/7 bombings in London interviewed her as the wife of Germaine Lindsay, one of those responsible for the attacks.
What followed was a media storm, looking at the personal and background life of this white Muslim convert, who seemingly had no idea her husband was involved with Jihadi terrorism.
Pleading obliviousness, and pregnant with her second child at the time, she was quoted as to saying that she totally condemned her husband’s actions and was “horrified by the atrocities which occurred in London on Thursday 7 July.” She even said that she was “trying to come to terms with the events” of that day and that her “whole world has fallen apart, and her thoughts are with the families of the victims of this incomprehensible devastation.”
She even pleased that anyone help with the investigations “to stamp out these terrorists.”
What was not know at the time, is that the atrocities of July 7 2005 would just the first of many that Samantha would be linked to in her life.
As the episode depicted, the image that Samantha cultivated through press interviews and country manor photoshoots holding her and Lindsay’s child, was later overturned. The grieving unaware widow of a terrorist, would later be accused of being a terrorism mastermind. A Muslim covert who held extreme ideologies against non-Muslims, despite growing up in Aylesbury with a Northern Ireland Catholic mother and a British solider father.
The episode tracks the timeline of Samantha’s life after the London attacks. It follows her later marrying fellow Brit, Habib Saleh Ghani or ‘Abu Osma’ and disappearing with her children to either Tanzania or Somalia.
It’s in Africa that Samantha’s White Widow persona would be born, cementing her reputation as one of the most world’s most wanted people. Offically, she is formally charged the crimes of being in possession of explosives and conspiracy to commit a felony, but it’s her links with the Islamic militant group, Al-Shababb that drew the attention of the British press yet again. During her time in Africa, she allegedly orchestrated attacks on non Muslim places of worship, and was also said to have been responsible for an attack in a bar in Mombasa, Kenya during the watching of 2012 UEFA European Football Championship.
With Al-Shabaab now in at it’s peak and running amok throughout Somalia and other places on the continent, often making headlines in world news and African news bulletins, reports of an attack at popular shopping mall in Kenya came to Western media in 2013. Footage from the bloody siege showed masked gunmen running amongst terrifed shoppers, slain bodies lying in the halls at their feet, with tourists and customers cowering for their lives soon flooded the airwaves. Journalists at the scene shared live footage of black smoke engulfing the air as the deadly attack continued, which left 71 dead (including 4 British people.)
The four pertrators of the attack all died at the scene, but it’s the statements afterwards from eyewitnesses that raised eyebrows. Someone shouting Arabic during an attack carried out in the name of Islamic terrorism was a minor, if not a mundane point, it was extremely common. But leaving the mouth of a woman, a white woman, a white woman with a British accent, was considerably less so.
It was claimed that Samantha, who had already been the subject of countless investigations into her location was being accused of handing out the orders to the gunmen.
Although this is all a focal point of the episode of World’s Most Wanted, her role in the shooting is said to be exaggerated, She was not captured in any of the video footage from the attack, and even Al-Shababb claimed no women played a role in the attack. Upset that their ‘fighters’ were being accused of taking orders from a woman, they issued a statement on Twitter saying “We have an adequate number of young men who are fully committed and we do not employ our sisters in such military operations.” Kenyan police chief at the time David Kimaiyo also later confirmed that Lewthwaite was not involved.
This didn’t stop The White Widow making headlines in the UK yet again. The UK media is known for it’s focal investigations into Jihadi coverts, often fascinated by one of our own leaving to fight a war against their country, especially when it’s women. We know through countless reports from these terror groups that women play no role in conflict. They are wives, mothers and teachers, helping shape the mind of the young men who hope to follow in the footsteps of their fathers. Yet Samantha was serving them what some desperately want from the frequently reported on ISIS ‘recruits’ now. She was an alleged ring leader, and mastermind. This British young girl was allegedly calling the shots on what terror to inflict on the world.
But what will strike any Northern Irish viewer of the documentary series, (which at the time of writing sits in the top ten viewed programme on the streaming service) will be the scenes and comments around half way through the episode.
To introduce Samantha’s background in the UK, scenes of what appears to be a late 1970s Belfast, specifically the New Lodge estate, fill the screen.
This is a familiar sight as to how Northern Ireland was (and still often is) portrayed to the outside world through a media lens.
Men in balaclavas and khaki jackets, are seen in grainy archived film throwing petrol bombs (molotov cocktails) at police and army personal. These scenes are edited alongside rapid shots of gunfire, sectarian graffiti, and armed soldiers walking the streets all with narration of the contributor, Patrick Mercer, whom is listed as former-British Army Colonel and is chosen by the programme team to set the scene of Samantha’s upbringing in Northern Ireland. It’s worth noting regarding Mercer’s contribution to the series, that he was previously employed as the Conservative Party’s shadow homeland security spokesman. However, in 2007 he was forced to resign the post by then Prime Minister David Cameron for making “unacceptable” racist remarks in an interview with The Times.
Quick shots of photographs of a young Samantha are shown alongside Mercer’s narration, seated in front of a her dinner with a big bottle ketchup, a school photo with the typical British teenager-esque short fat knotted tie, and even shots in the format of webcam selfies circa 2008, all accompany Mercer saying that Lewthwaite was always “conscious of edge of danger and the edge of terrorism” because “her father was involved in it and she lived amongst it.” It’s no understatmentthat Northern Ireland from the 70s to the 90s was a troubled place. Samantha was born in a place that was struggling with a huge sectarian and violent conflict, of which her father was actively employed to help end. But what a viewer will likely not link is the photograph of a pre-teen Samantha sitting in front of a cake as someone who was “conscious of the edge of terrorism.” The reach to connect this young girl as someone deeply aware of terrorism might seem unlikely to many, particularly in Northern Ireland. Someone may assume blindly that the series is somewhat implying that having spent her early life in The Troubles era Northern Ireland, that it was always to be expected of her to be wanted of crimes linked to radical Islamic terror.
But what viewers can safely presume that Mercer’s statement that she was a “product of terror” is a veiled reference to Samantha’s father who was solider in 9th/12th Royal Lancers, serving on a tour of Northern Ireland during The Troubles, were he met Samatha Lewthwaite’s Irish Catholic mother.
To attempt to put the comments into further context, Samantha was born in Banbridge, a rural village town often associated as being the stop before those travelling from the North go down to Dublin. It has a population of around 16,000 and is 30 miles from Belfast city centre.
For a place that was alleged the birth place of Samantha’s “terror,” Banbridge suffered only three noted bombings during The Troubles. Two of them did not even occur when Samantha lived there. One of which, before she was even born.
The latter and first happened in March 1982, when a Provisional IRA bomb on Bridge Street killed a schoolboy and injured 36 people.
The second on 4 April 1991, was an 1000lbs IRA bomb which caused widespread damage and injured a police officer, when Samantha would have been 8 years old.
The final was in 1 August 1998, after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, when a car bomb injured thirty-three civilians and two Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) on a busy shopping street. This attack was the most damaging bomb attack since the signing of the agreement in April of that year, before the Omagh bomb occurred 2 weeks later killing 29 people. During this attack, Samantha would have been 15 years old and already living in Aylesbury, England for 4 years.
Despite the episode’s claims that “(Samantha) was a child, born of a terrorist situation, in terror and eventually turned to terror herself” Samantha to date, is the only known person born in Northern Ireland to be connected to Islamic terrorism. Her family have never made a statement about The Troubles or her father’s role in the conflict.
When asked about the comments made in the episode of World’s Most Wanted, Glenn Barr, a councillor for Banbridge stated that he had not seen the episode, but said that “Banbridge compared to many other towns across Northern Ireland and sectarianism, remained and still remains largely untouched” and was by and (in addition)“ largely was untouched during The Troubles.”
Many could claim that Samantha having been born in Northern Ireland would have nothing to do with her later links to role as the world’s ‘most wanted woman.’ She reportedly has no relationships to anyone living in NI today, with what little family and connections she has left here, ask that “they remain left alone and out of the limelight.” Shortly after the Kenyan siege, it was reported that her 85 year old grandmother tightened her home’s security and was admitted to hospital due to reports of her granddaughter’s alleged involvement in the attack. Since then, and at this time, her grandmother’s condition is unknown.
It’s also quite obvious that from looking at the episode list, that the series has a distinct lack of female and a British presence, despite have never been charged with terror offences, Lewthwaite is the only British born person and only female featured as one of six episode’s topics. The episode is the only one of six that is broadcast primarily in English, making it the go-to watch for those in the UK.
Northern Ireland’s colourful history and conflict can be no doubt be compared and contrasted with many past and ongoing in the world. From Israel and Palestine, to Beirut and the Lebanese Civil War, but many living here may just see Netflix opting to make an easy grab to reference one terror situation and compare it to another, despite there be no evidence to support the claim that Samantha’s crimes are in anyway influenced by her birth during Northern Ireland’s Troubles.
At a time when Northern Ireland is still attempting to shed it’s conflict and terror connatations, this renewed link to Samantha Lewthwaite may just prove too much.
Samantha Lewthwaite has not been charged or given a trial, and therefore is presumed innocent until proven guilty. She remains still at large with her current whereabouts unknown to authorities.
World’s Most Wanted is streaming now on Netflix.
Kurtis Reid is a freelance journalist based in Belfast, Northern Ireland.