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The curious case of the ‘White Widow’

Diana Moukalled

Published: Updated:

Has the British media mentioned that the “White Widow,” the suspected mastermind of the Nairobi mall terrorist attack last week, is also a member of the American Tea Party? This is how one British woman commented on Twitter about the story that has kept Western media busy last week.

It seems that a tone of irony and scepticism began to increase in response to the fever that took over British and Western media regarding whom they dubbed the "white widow" - the British national Samantha Lewthwaite.

The choice to use the term "White Widow" created a buzz among the public with the mysterious story of the white woman whom all we grew to know about, particularly her conversion to Islam. She was the wife of one of the men who carried out the London explosions in 2005. There have been security leaks about her involvement in the Nairobi attack which was claimed by the Somali al-Shabaab movement. Some considered her one of the most important al-Qaeda elements in North Africa.

Where’s the real facts?

But all these conclusions are not based on solid tangible facts. Security apparatuses have themselves admitted this. Even the story that went viral and stated that Samantha led the Nairobi attack turned out to be untrue. As one looks more accurately at the leaked information on this woman, a conviction increases that Samantha's story was deliberately exaggerated.

The choice to use the term "White Widow" created a buzz among the public with the mysterious story of the white woman whom all we grew to know about, particularly her conversion to Islam.

Diana Moukalled

During the 90s, stories of "black widows" were written about Chechen females who lost their husbands during clashes with Russian security forces and thus avenged by carrying out attacks against Russian interests made the headlines. The black widow is also a common name of some female spiders who kill males after mating. The two expressions have been played with to describe the involvement of women in terrorism.

After the first days of the incident in which civilians were taken hostage at the mall and after the name "White Widow" spread, the British media dived into everything that has to do with this woman. They dug into the stories of her conversion to Islam and marriage. Some even brought up her grandmother's health condition and how police found sexy lingerie in houses she resided at in London.

But after all this focus on her as a terrorist, the discussion today lies somewhere else.

Why was the story of this woman exaggerated when it seems that nothing is clear about her yet?

Adding some spice to such news stories has formed a major component in reproducing a fictitious story about these terrorist groups. Samantha is a British woman who converted to Islam. These are components which are enough to feed the story with any amount of imagination. Doesn't the exaggeration of sexual jihad in Syria carry a certain amount of this tendency?

Hasn't the Western media fallen victim to myths spread by media outlets which oppose the Syrian revolution more than once?

It's thus probable that the White Widow is one of the many traps the Western media has fallen into.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Sept. 30, 2013.

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Diana Moukalled is the Web Editor at the Lebanon-based Future Television and was the Production & Programming Manager with at the channel. Previously, she worked there as Editor in Chief, Producer and Presenter of “Bilayan al Mujaradah,” a documentary that covers hot zones in the Arab world and elsewhere, News and war correspondent and Local news correspondent. She currently writes a regular column in AlSharq AlAwsat. She also wrote for Al-Hayat Newspaper and Al-Wasat Magazine, besides producing news bulletins and documentaries for Reuters TV. She can be found on Twitter: @dianamoukalled.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.