JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — As Kenyan forces work to secure a Nairobi shopping mall after a four-day siege, speculation is growing as to the identities of the assailants — and whether a mysterious British woman might be among them.
Samantha Lewthwaite, 29, the widow of one of the men who carried out the suicide attacks on London’s transit system in 2005, is already wanted by Kenyan police for her alleged role in a terror plot.
Kenyan authorities previously claimed the British-born Lewthwaite had traveled to the country along with her three young children on a forged South African passport, under the assumed name of Natalie Faye Webb.
Amina Mohamed, Kenya’s foreign minister, fueled speculation about Lewthwaite's possible involvement in the Westgate attack by suggesting in an interview that “two or three” young American men and a British woman were among the suspected Al Shabaab militants who attacked the shopping center Saturday morning.
“And she has, I think, done this many times before,” Mohamed told PBS NewsHour.
Rumors about Lewthwaite’s involvement led a few Kenyans on Twitter to speculate that she was pictured in photos from the scene, though the idea has since been dismissed.
Dubbed the “white widow” by British media, Kenyan police in late 2011 issued a wanted notice for Lewthwaite, in which they accused her of traveling on a fake South African passport.
South Africa's home affairs department on Tuesday said it would investigate claims that a British woman travelled to Kenya on a forged South African passport before taking part in the Westgate mall siege, if the Kenyan government asks for assistance.
"We have not received any official communication from the Kenyan authorities regarding a fake passport," spokesman Ronnie Mamoepa said. "We stand ready to work with the Kenyans upon request."
Lewthwaite grew up in southeast England and converted to Islam as a teenager, reportedly after spending time with Muslim neighbors. After high school she moved to London to study politics and religion at the School of Oriental and African Studies, before dropping out.
She is said to have met Germaine Lindsay in an internet chatroom, and married him in 2002. Three years later, Lindsay carried out a suicide bomb attack on a London underground train that killed 26 people.
Lewthwaite, who at the time was pregnant with the couple's second child, denied any knowledge of the attack and publicly condemned her husband's actions as "abhorrent."
She is thought to have disappeared with her children in 2009. Kenyan investigators picked up her trail in 2011 at an apartment in the port city of Mombasa.
British Home Secretary Theresa May, when asked about the Kenyan foreign minister’s remarks, wouldn't respond to the claims that a British woman had been involved in the Nairobi attack.
"I'm aware that there have been reports of a British woman being involved, but until we have seen the investigations completed it is not possible to give further details to confirm or deny that issue,” May told a press conference in Pakistan.
More from GlobalPost: With fresh Kenya attack, is Somalia's Al Qaeda affiliate stronger than ever?