Two more arrested in case of murdered British soldier
Suspects accused of hacking Lee Rigby (25) to death were known to British security services
Video-grab taken from ITV News of a man holding weapons near the scene in John Wilson Street, Woolwich where a soldier was murdered. Photograph: ITV News/PA Wire
A police officer carries flowers near the scene where a soldier was killed on a street in Woolwich, southeast London yesterday. Photograph: Neil Hall/Reuters
Flowers lay outside Woolwich Barracks in London today. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
Drummer Lee Rigby (25) from the 2nd Battalion, Royal Regiment of Fusiliers who was named today as the soldier hacked to death in Woolwich yesterday. Photograph: police handout/PA Wire
British police have arrested two more people in a hunt for accomplices of two British men of Nigerian descent accused of hacking a soldier to death on a London street in revenge for wars in Muslim countries.
The two suspected killers, now under guard in hospitals, had been known to security services before yesterday’s daylight attack, security sources said. Another man and a woman, both aged 29, were detained on suspicion of conspiracy to murder.
One of the assailants, filmed calmly justifying the killing as he stood by the body holding a knife and meat cleaver in bloodied hands, was named by acquaintances as 28-year-old Londoner Michael Adebolajo - a British-born convert to Islam.
Mark Hennessy reports from London
So frenzied was the attack, some witnesses thought they were trying to behead and disembowel the victim, who was named as a 25-year-old Afghan war veteran Drummer Lee Rigby, a father of one who was working as an army recruiter.
The attack, just a month after the Boston Marathon bombing and the first Islamist killing in Britain since local suicide bombers killed 52 people in London in 2005, revived fears of “lone wolves” who may have had no direct contact with al-Qaeda.
Mr Adebolajo and the other man, who may have been born abroad and later naturalised as British, were shot by police at the scene.
Drummer Rigby’s family issued the following tribute: “Lee was lovely. He would do anything for anybody, he always looked after his sisters and always protected them. He took a ‘big brother’ role with everyone.
“All he wanted to do from when he was a little boy, was be in the Army. He wanted to live life and enjoy himself. His family meant everything to him. He was a loving son, husband, father, brother, and uncle, and a friend to many.
“We ask that our privacy be respected at this difficult time.”
Six residential addresses were being searched today as part of the investigation, three in south London, one in east London, one in north London and one in Lincolnshire.
In a statement the force said: “This is a large, complex and fast-moving investigation which continues to develop.
“Many lines of inquiry are being followed by detectives and the investigation is progressing well.”
Officers have recovered a number of items from the murder scene and continue to appeal for witnesses to get in touch, and send in footage and photographs of what happened.
Prime minister David Cameron held an emergency meeting of his intelligence chiefs to assess the response to what he called a “terrorist” attack; it was the first deadly strike in mainland Britain since local Islamists killed dozens in London in 2005.
“We will never give in to terror or terrorism in any of its forms,” Mr Cameron said outside his Downing Street office. “This was not just an attack on Britain and on the British way of life, it was also a betrayal of Islam and of the Muslim communities who give so much to our country.”
US president Barack Obama condemned it “in the strongest terms”, adding in a statement: “The United States stands resolute with the United Kingdom, our ally and friend, against violent extremism and terror.”
One source close to the inquiry said the local backgrounds of the suspects in a multicultural metropolis - nearly 40 per cent of Londoners were born abroad - and the simplicity of the attack made prevention difficult: “Apart from being horribly barbaric, this was relatively straightforward to carry out,” the source said. “This was quite low-tech and that is frankly pretty challenging.”
The two men used a car to run down the young soldier, whose name was not made public, near Woolwich Barracks in southeast London and attempted to behead him with a meat cleaver and knives, witnesses said, before telling shocked bystanders they acted in revenge for British wars in Muslim countries.
A dramatic clip filmed by an onlooker showed one of the men, identified as Adebolajo, his hands covered in blood and speaking in a local accent, apologising for taking his action in front of women but justifying it on religious grounds.
“We swear by almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you. The only reason we have done this is because Muslims are dying every day,” he said. “This British soldier is an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”
Images of the blood-soaked suspect - who urged Britons to overthrow their government or risk having their children face the fate of the dead soldier lying just yards away - were splashed across the front pages of newspapers; so too were links to his clearly spoken, matter-of-fact video statement, made as the pair chatted calmly to bystanders before police arrived.
The head of a banned British radical Islamist group who knew Adebolajo claimed today British foreign policy was to blame for the attack. Anjem Choudary said Adebolajo had attended lectures run by al-Muhajiroun, Mr Choudary’s organisation, which was banned under anti-terrorism laws in 2010. “He used to attend a few demonstrations and activities that we used to have in the past,” Mr Choudary said, adding he had not seen him for about two years. “When I knew him he was very pleasant man, he was peaceful, unassuming and I don’t think there’s any reason to think he would do anything violent.”
In Nigeria, with a mixed Christian-Muslim population and where the authorities are battling an Islamist insurgency, a government source said there was no evidence the Woolwich suspects were linked to groups in west Africa.
The grisly attack took place next to the sprawling Royal Artillery Barracks in Woolwich, a south London working class district which has long-standing historic links to the military and is home to many immigrant communities, including Nigerians. The victim was wearing a T-shirt saying “Help for Heroes”, the name of a charity formed to help wounded British veterans.
Witnesses said they shouted “Allahu akbar” - Arabic for God is greatest - while stabbing the victim and trying to behead him. A handgun was found at the scene. Some onlookers rushed to help the victim and one woman tried to engage one of the attackers in conversation to calm him.
“He had what looked like butcher’s tools - a little axe, to cut the bones, and two large knives,” said witness Ingrid Loyau-Kennett. “He said: ‘I killed him because he killed Muslims and I am fed up with people killing Muslims in Afghanistan.’”
A trained first aider and Cub Scout leader, Loyau-Kennett was on a bus which was held up by the incident and she got off to try to help the victim. She found he was already dead. Her attitude and that of other passers-by who remonstrated with the attackers was held up by Mr Cameron as an example of resistance to attempts to terrorise the population: “When told by the attacker that he wanted to start a war in London,” Mr Cameron said, “She replied, ‘You’re going to lose. It’s only you versus many.’ She spoke for us all.”
London was last hit by a serious militant attack on July 7th, 2005, when four young Islamists set off suicide bombs on the public transport network, killing 52 innocent people and wounding hundreds. A similar attempted attack two weeks later was thwarted.
In 2007, two days after police defused two car bombs outside London nightclubs, two men suspected of involvement, a British-born doctor of Iraqi descent and an Indian-born engineer, rammed a car laden with gas into the Glasgow airport terminal, setting it ablaze. One of the attackers died and the other was jailed.
Since the 2007 bombings, known as 7/7, security chiefs say they have faced at least one plan to carry out an attack on the level of the 2005 attacks and have warned that radicalised individuals posed a grave risk to national security.
Peter Clarke, the former head of London‘s Counter Terrorism Command who led the investigation into the 7/7 bombings, said that if the Woolwich attackers did turn out to be acting alone, it showed the difficulty the security services faced in trying to stop them. “An attack like this doesn‘t need sophisticated fund raising and sophisticated communications or planning,“ he told Reuters. “It can be organised and then actually delivered in a moment.“
The bombing attacks on the Boston Marathon last month, which US authorities blame on two brothers, have raised the profile of the “lone wolf” threat in the West. A French-Algerian gunman killed three off-duty French soldiers and four Jewish civilians on a rampage in southern France last year.
Britain‘s involvement in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in the past decade has often stirred anger among British Muslims and occasionally made soldiers a target at home. British police have foiled at least two major plots in which Islamist suspects were accused of planning to kill members of the military.
Mr Cameron‘s office officials had welcomed the condemnation from most mainstream British Muslim groups but that the national security committee had discussed community cohesion.
In signs of a backlash after the attack, more than 100 supporters of the English Defence League, a far-right street protest group, took to the streets of Woolich last night, some wearing balaclavas and carrying England‘s red and white flag. They were contained by riot police.
Separately, two men were arrested in connection with separate attacks on mosques outside London. No one was hurt.
Additionanl reporting: Agencies