THE hunt for a woman from Banbridge who is accused of being involved in an international terrorist plot, has sparked a debate on how closely people associated with terrorism are monitored by British authorities.
Samantha Lewthwaite, a mother-of-three who spent part of her childhood in Banbridge with her mum Christine and former solider dad Andy, has been on the run from police since Boxing Day after it emerged she is wanted for questioning in relation to a terrorist cell said to be planning number of bomb attacks in Kenya.
The 28-year-old is thought to have fled to Somalia with her three children, and now a senior member of the British Government has said her situation should be used to decide whether more needs to be done to monitor people who are close to terrorists.
Ms Lewthwaite, a former pupil of Ballydown Primary School and resident of Whyte Acres in the town, was married to 7/7 bomber Germaine Lindsay who blew himself up along with 26 other people on one of London’s busiest tube lines in 2005.
Since it emerged that she is wanted by police MP Keith Vaz, chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, has questioned how the young mother was able to leave Britain so freely.
“We should use this case as a benchmark to decide whether we need to do more to monitor those with connections with persons we are interested in, who may provide us with important information on the way which they pursue their ends,” he told the BBC.
“Clearly this is someone going in and out of the country, it is important to monitor those who go abroad - we were told 50 Britons out of 200 foreigners fighting for Al-Shabab are involved in these activities.”
Ms Lewthwaite, who is said to have changed her name to Sheraﬁyah after converting to Islam in her teens, is not thought to have had much contact with her family - including her 85-year-old grandmother who still lives in Banbridge - in recent years.
Last month a friend of her grandmother’s called for Ms Lewthwaite to give herself up for the sake of her children.
Council chair Joan Baird told the Leader, “The people of Banbridge are very distressed on behalf of Mrs Allen (Ms Lewthwaite’s grandmother) and her close family. “This woman (Samantha) is reported to have done things, and to my mind it would be great if she and her three children could be traced so they could get help -because they need help.”
During a recent report on BBC Radio Four it was revealed another MP Patrick Mercer write to Home Secretary Theresa May asking why Ms Lewthwaite’s movements were not more closely monitored.
“I think this has the makings of a significant scandal,” he said. “If we are talking about someone who’s been intimate, very, very closely involved with a well-known and proven terrorist, and the fact that she’s able to disappear off the radar and then come back having been radicalised that does worry me.”
One of Ms Lewthwaite’s former friends from Aylesbury in England where she moved with her parents when she was young, told the BBC he believed she had been co-erced.
“She could be led but she’s not a leader…I think if anything she’s been pushed into it, threatened into it but not doing it willingly,” he said.
Shortly after it emerged Ms Lewthwaite had gone missing from where she had been living in Kenya, authorities said they suspect she is a strong supporter of fundamentialists.
“We believe she is a collaborator with terrorists, not a planner,” he said. “Our understanding is she was working with people here, al-Qaeda or al-Shabaab people, she is a very big sympathiser with
“She was not going to carry out an attack, but she helped to fundraise for them, helped in the acquisition of weapons, hiding people, transporting people, that kind of thing.”