Eye witnesses on the first day of the attack last month as well as witnesses in the hijack of Tahmeed bus near Witu, Lamu county last week, have given similar descriptions of a woman from whom the attackers were taking orders. CCTV footage captured at a Automatic Teller Machine (ATM) in one of the banks raided at Mpeketoni on June 15 shows the alleged woman and other men walking into the ATM lobby.
The heavily armed attackers are seen vandalising the ATM after unleashing shots at the machine. The footage and the photographs are the subject of analysis by local and international security agents. Security sources who spoke to the People Daily say images of a tall hooded woman can be seen giving instructions to the armed attackers who then proceed to the ATM.
In the Witu attack which involved a passenger bus heading to Lamu from Mombasa, victims of the ambush said the gunmen who killed seven people, among them four police officers, were receiving instructions from a “tall white woman”. Police said yesterday the descriptions by the passengers in the bus match those given by residents of Kibaoni and Mpeketoni Township.
“Some of the passengers told us the woman, who was commanding the assailants at Witu, spoke in a mixture of Kiswahili and deep English,” said the source. Indicators are that the hooded woman could have been the British-born Samantha Lewthwaite (the so called White Widow), who has been associated with a string of past and recent terrorist attacks in Kenya and other parts of the world.
Detectives privy to on-going investigations say there is collaborative evidence to the presence of a white female and believe the “white widow” as she is commonly referred to by the British detectives may have learnt Swahili while living in Kenya. A witness to the attack at Kibaoni said he heard the woman “commander” shout orders in “struggling” Swahili.
The eye-witness, who recorded a statement with the detectives says he climbed to the rooftop of a two-storey building during the attack for safety from where he managed to get a closeup of the melee from his hiding place. Says the eye-witness: “One of the attackers was a tall “mzungu” with long hair. Since the attacker was hooded, it was difficult to tell emphatically whether it was a man or a woman but the voice suggested the latter, who also had a strap of bullets around the shoulders and a machine gun.”
While al-Shabaab claimed outright responsibility for the attacks, the Government said local political networks and politics had instigated the massacre. Detectives believe the attackers were well co-ordinated and knew what exactly to do a situation which lent credence to the hypothesis of the “white window’s” involvement. Police said Lewthwaite remain a key suspect in the attacks thought to have been planned in Mombasa with collaboration of al-Shabaab operatives in Somali.
This as it emerged that a Kenyan and Somali women were named in a US court as being involved in an international network as among the conduits in financing al Shabaab. While piecing together the al Shabaab angle, police still believe, the killer gang numbering between 40 and 50 had travelled from Somalia to Mombasa then Lamu and were organised in two “brigades”.
The first brigade consisted of about half the attackers who had travelled from Mombasa in two hired vans which they later set ablaze after killing their crew. Intelligence sources say the attackers from Mombasa included men of Arab, Somali, and Mijikenda descent, while the other group comprised mainly foreigners and a handful of Kenyans suspected to have been fighting alongside the al-Shabaab in Somalia.
Detectives now suspect Lewthwaite could have been part of the gang which had come from Somalia where she is reported to have settled with a new husband. The mother of four was first married to Germain Lindsay in October 2002. Germain, himself a radicalised British Muslim blew himself up on a London train killing 26 people in the suicide attack.
Back to Lamu attacks. The first brigade left Mombasa and travelled to Lamu, astonishingly passing through eight police road blocks, an oversight police attribute to the fact that the killers were not travelling armed. The other batch of the killers – the second brigade- came from Somali and had arrived in small groups through the porous Kenya-Somali border in Kiunga and Garissa.