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The white widow seen in shades of grey

india Updated: Sep 29, 2013 23:38 IST

A vague feeling suggests that ‘white widow’ Samantha Lewthwaite was not the field commander of the Nairobi shopping mall attack, in which at least 72 people died and scores more are still missing. It may be foolishly early to call this one. But did you ever hear anything so fishy in all your life?

That Lewthwaite should already have been immortalised as the ‘white widow’ is not wholly surprising. The white widow is a newly hatched relative of that old media staple, the black widow – AKA any woman involved in any sort of violent crime, ever.

As for the ‘white widow’ what do we know about her? Well, she's white (which obviously makes her innately suitable for a management role in the attack) and she is a widow. Specifically, she is the widow of 7/7 bomber Germaine Lindsay, who murdered 26 people on the Piccadilly line.

One of the many, many encouraging things to emerge via the laser-like focus on Lewthwaite over the past few days has been the phrase ‘dropped off the intelligence radar’. According to what security sources seem to have been briefing, the Widow Lindsay was questioned after the attacks but, despite police suspicions, she ‘dropped off the intelligence radar’.

Thus we find ourselves in a depressing double bind. If Lewthwaite really is our best lead on Nairobi, you can't help but wonder if we've really got anywhere much over the past few years, in any sense of the word ‘intelligence’.

Other things that are unclear? Take your pick, from whether Lewthwaite was even in Kenya at the time of the attack, to why someone ‘fitting her description’ was reported to have been in the Westgate shopping centre ‘issuing commands’ in Arabic to a bunch of Somalis and Kenyans, who have elsewhere been reported as speaking in English and Swahili to victims.

Still, perhaps we shall gain greater insight into the precise characteristics of the ‘white widow’ when the ‘global tripwire’ laid by Interpol finally apprehends her. Do let's hope they're not as bathetically disappointing as the characteristics of her distant namesake.

As tends to be the way of these things, you see, the popular assumptions surrounding the behaviour of black widow spiders are somewhat exaggerated. In so few of the numerous different species of black widow does the female routinely kill the male after mating, that the entire ‘black widow’ section of the public imagination is often described by experts as more myth than fact.