LONDON -- The tabloids call her "the white widow," a British-born Muslim convert who was married to one of the suicide bombers in the 2005 attack on London's transit system.
And for days now, the British media have been rife with speculation that she took part in the four-day terrorist siege that began Saturday at a shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya.
On Thursday, Interpol, acting at Kenya's request, issued an arrest notice for the 29-year-old fugitive, Samantha Lewthwaite -- not in connection with the mall attack, but instead tied to a 2011 plot to bomb holiday resorts in Kenya.
If Ms. Lewthwaite has indeed embraced the jihadi cause, it would mark a chilling turnaround for the apparently grieving widow, who originally condemned the London transit bombings and criticized her late husband, Jermaine Lindsay, for taking part.
Officials have not made public any evidence linking her to the mall attack. The Interpol notice didn't mention it. And the Shabab, the Somali Islamic extremist group behind the takeover, denied that any female fighters participated. Nevertheless, the Interpol notice's timing, so soon after the attack, fueled speculation that she was involved in some way -- suspicions stoked earlier in the week by the Kenyan foreign minister's assertion that a British woman had a role in the bloodbath.
Interpol said this is the first time that it has been asked to issue a "red notice" for Ms. Lewthwaite. The wanted-person alert said she is wanted on charges of possessing explosives and conspiracy to commit a felony in December 2011.
There was no immediate explanation from Kenyan police regarding why they had asked for the alert now. Authorities said Ms. Lewthwaite, who at the time was pregnant by her new Kenyan husband, was in charge of finances for the planned attack amid the Christmas holidays, and they suspected that she had rented several houses in Mombasa to assemble a bomb.
Valentina Soria, a security analyst and Shabab expert with IHS Janes, noted that Ms. Lewthwaite's name has popped up after nearly every terror episode in East Africa over the past two years. She said Ms. Lewthwaite has long been an object of fascination, as a white woman alleged to be working for the Shabab.
Ms. Lewthwaite's value, Ms. Soria said, could be in recruiting: "It may have been an advantage for al-Shabab to have a personality like that linked to the group because of the kind of example she could represent in terms of attracting Western recruits."