Suspect described as 'Average, British, young, ordinary girl'

First published in Feeds

Samantha Lewthwaite was just an average British girl who was "empty in confidence", a councillor who knew her has said.

Dubbed the "white widow", Lewthwaite, who has links with Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, converted to Islam at the age of 15 and married Jermaine Lindsay in 2002 before he killed 26 people when he blew himself up in the July 7 terrorist attacks in London in 2005.

The mother of three is known to be in East Africa and is wanted by Kenyan police over alleged links to a terrorist cell that planned to bomb the country's coast.

In March last year, officials said she had fled to Somalia and that officers were hunting a woman who used several identities, including hers.

Councillor Raj Khan, whose family knew Lewthwaite's family socially in Aylesbury, said he is surprised at speculation she is involved in the attack in Kenya due to how he remembers her.

"She was an average, British, young, ordinary girl. She had a very great personality. She didn't have very good confidence," he said.

Mr Khan recalled a meeting with Lewthwaite and Lindsay regarding a housing issue which took place three or four weeks before the July 7 bombings, and he said she was just as he remembered her.

"Certainly when I was around her, she was the same person, lacking in confidence.

"She was not strong-headed. And that's why I find it absolutely amazing that she is supposed to be the head of an international criminal terrorist organisation," he said.

Mr Khan said he was "perplexed" that someone he knew, who was so "empty in confidence", was being linked to international terrorism.

He said he prays that she is not involved, adding: "...and of course my worry is that if she in involved, is she under some kind of duress? Is there other factors involved?

"Or indeed, is it Samantha? I mean there are so many questions to be answered at the moment before one can make a view."

Mr Khan said her family will be "very upset" if she is involved.

"Of course like anyone else, they will be very hurt, very upset, very, very upset, but I think they too will be waiting for proof, not speculation," he said.

Mr Khan said he does not think the speculation surrounding Lewthwaite will cause divisions in Aylesbury due to the community's maturity.

"Of course if it is Samantha indeed, of course they'll be very hurt, very upset, as indeed any human being would be, but in terms of causing any differences in our community I think the community is far more mature for that kind of thing," he said.

Lindsay, who killed 26 people between King's Cross and Russell Square on the Piccadilly line was a Jamaican-born Muslim convert who never made a secret of his extremist views.

He was brought up by his mother in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, where he alarmed his teachers by attempting to radicalise impressionable younger pupils.

Lindsay and Lewthwaite moved to Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, in September 2003.

Speaking outside the mosque in Aylesbury, Mr Khan said: "The fact is, the Samantha I knew as a child is a different Samantha to what I'm hearing about today."

He described her as "pleasant" and "courteous" when he spoke to her before the July 7 bombings.

Mr Khan was keen to point out that people should not jump to conclusions until the speculation has been substantiated.

He said she had no connections to the mainstream Muslim community in Aylesbury - and did not pray at the mosque.

She was a follower, not a leader, Mr Khan said.

He added: "As far as I could see in her, she was a normal, average, young lady."

Referring to the last time he spoke to Lewthwaite, he said: "I at no stage suspected or saw anything that made me concerned."

Adding: "There was nothing that made me untowards worried about her.

"In fact while she was in Aylesbury I saw her as a normal practising Muslim.

"I didn't see any radical or extreme views. We never picked it up."

Mr Khan said the community of Aylesbury had no awareness of any radicalism involving Lewthwaite.

He added: "The young lady that I knew very personally was a follower."

Recalling times they spent together, he said: "We used to talk about issues, talk, laugh - what you would expect normally in any family orientated community."

Mr Khan said Lewthwaite was interested in friends and also keen to "learn Islam quite deeply", as well as developing her relationship with the Muslim community.

He said he did not think her mother, from Northern Ireland, had "any active role".

He said he believed Lewthwaite would go home and spend most of her time with the Muslim community.

"We never saw her mother," Mr Khan said.

He added that if the speculation is correct then nobody in particular can be blamed.

"It's no one's fault, it's not her family's fault, it's not the people of Aylesbury's fault. It's whoever is accountable.

"And let's wait and see whether she is involved. If she is she has to be trialled, Judged, like anybody else.

"We would expect justice for all," he said.

Niknam Hussain, former mayor of Aylesbury and current chairman of the independent advisory group at Thames Valley Police, said he knew Lewthwaite and the Asian family she used to associate with.

"I'm astonished and amazed. I can't believe it's true in any which way.

"Until they provide us with proof, I think it's innocent until proven guilty, to be honest," he said.

Mr Hussain said that to speculate that a housewife from "leafy Buckinghamshire" has been transformed into a "mastermind or kingpin" of terrorism is "just amazing".

He said Lewthwaite was "as normal a person as you could meet".

"She went to one of the local secondary schools. I've spoken to teachers of hers - nothing untoward or amazing about her.

"When you think you're trying to ascribe a level of sophistication and intrigue to this person that she can ghost herself away, and her children, to become the kingpin... I'm just amazed."

Mr Hussain also knew Lewthwaite's husband, and described him as seeming "perfectly normal".

He met him three or four weeks before the July 7 bombings and said: "Nothing you could say was troubling his mind, or something he was itching to do or say, honestly cannot say.

"And that's what makes the allegations against Samantha doubly troubling, because you think 'Well, could this be true?'.

"But again, where's the proof?"

He added: "Then to ascribe a level of sophistication that she could control a whole terrorist empire, I'm sorry, I don't think that Tom Clancy could write anything like that."

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