White Widow's web of deceit
Samantha Lewthwaite, the suspected commander of the Kenyan mall terrorists known as the ''White Widow'', has been travelling the world with multiple South African identity documents and passports.
The Home Affairs Department refused to comment on the matter last night.
The discovery of at least two different identity numbers on multiple drivers' licences and passports - one of which was flagged internationally to alert customs officials to her wanted status - follows a high-level meeting last night of the police counter-terrorism unit, the crimes against the state unit and the State Security Agency.
Along with the police and security investigations, the Home Affairs Department has, in conjunction with British authorities, been investigating Lewthwaite, a UK national whose husband, Germaine Lindsay, was one of the 2005 London suicide bombers.
Police and intelligence officers are involved in multiple investigations into the activities in South Africa of both Lewthwaite and the Somali terrorist organisation al-Shabab.
These are said to include recruitment and fundraising.
It appears that until now the different government departments and law-enforcement agencies have been conducting investigations independently of each other.
Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the four-day Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi in which more than 70 people were killed and nearly 200 injured.
According to Kenyan authorities, Lewthwaite entered that country, with her three children, on a South African passport in 2011. That passport was issued in the name of Natalie Faye Webb.
At least one of her children, a boy going by the name of Aaron Webb, is also in possession of a South African passport.
Initial reports said Lewthwaite had been travelling on a fake South African passport, but it has been disclosed that the document is genuine and she had falsified supporting documents, assuming the identity of a real South African called Natalie Faye Webb.
"[Lewthwaite] stole the identity of the other woman and claimed to have grown up in London with her parents who emigrated there . she applied for a passport and brought [supporting] documents and it was issued," said a government official close to the investigation.
Lewthwaite used the passport to leave South Africa some time during 2011. Home Affairs began investigating after it emerged her bona fides were false. It is not clear what triggered the investigation.
Home Affairs then flagged the passport as a "hit".
This means Lewthwaite would not have been able to travel using the document because it would be automatically picked up by sophisticated immigration systems at airports.
"As soon as she left South Africa it was picked up that she is not the person she claimed she was and we registered the passport as a hit. She can't use it again," said the official.
Home Affairs spokesman Ronnie Mamoepa refused to comment on the Lewthwaite matter, saying minister Naledi Pandor would deal with the issue today.
Hawks spokesman Captain Paul Ramaloko confirmed the meeting between police and state security agents last night.
"It is about establishing exactly what is and is not known about this and other matters relating to al-Shabab.
"I cannot elaborate further," Mamoepa said.
A police source said the second identity number Lewthwaite was using appeared to be assigned to a man.
"At this stage it appears that, although the passports and other identity documents seem genuine, at least one of the identity numbers is false.
"This is forming part of our investigation, as are the different identity numbers and documents, including South African drivers' licences in her name," the policeman said.
The discovery of Lewthwaite's multiple identities follows an eNCA report that she, using the identity of Webb, owes South African banks thousands of rands that she allegedly stole before leaving South Africa.
The news channel reported that "Webb" lived at four different Johannesburg addresses and that in 2011, the Randburg Magistrate's Court issued a judgment against her for more than R20000 that was owed to First Rand Bank.
She is said to owe Standard Bank R30 000.
In May, State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele told the SABC that intelligence agencies had identified South Africans involved with extremist groups such as al-Shabab.