British military have been ordered to step up security dramatically following yesterday’s brutal attack in southeast London in which a soldier was killed and partially decapitated by two machete-wielding attackers.
The two men drove on to the pavement to knock down the soldier, who had moments earlier left Woolwich barracks, before they attacked him and dragged his corpse onto the street where they subjected him to a frenzied assault.
Making no attempt to flee, the men stayed around the corpse, chanting " Allah Akbar ", or God is Great", before one of them, speaking with a London accent, told a TV camera crew: "We swear by almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you. The only reasons we have done this is because Muslims are dying every day. This British soldier is an eye for an eye, a tooth for tooth.
“We apologise that women had to see this today but in our lands our women have to see the same.
“You people will never be safe. Remove your government. They don’t care about you,” said the man, who is black and in his 20s, and whose hands were covered in blood as they held a machete and a meat cleaver.
The victim was in civilian clothes and wore a T-shirt promoting the military charity, Help for Heroes, but it is so far unclear whether he was randomly chosen by his attackers or whether he had been individually targeted. One of the men, armed with a pistol, was shot by armed police, who arrived on the scene 20 minutes after the savage attack had begun. Six shots were fired by police. One of the men was seriously injured, the other less so.
The men's behaviour after the attack – staying at the scene, walking towards armed officers while waving a gun – led many to believe they had decided beforehand that they were going to become Islamic martyrs.
There are fears that yesterday’s attack could inflame tensions in ethnically divided communities throughout Britain, leading to calls for restraint both by politicians and community leaders.
The largest Muslim representative body, the Muslim Council of Britain, which has condemned the conduct of radical Islamic preachers, condemned the Woolwich atrocity, saying that it was “a barbaric act that has no basis in Islam”.
Responding to the atrocity, mayor of London Boris Johnson said: "This afternoon's attack in Woolwich is a sickening, deluded and unforgivable act of violence. My thoughts are with the victim and his family."
Last night British prime minister David Cameron cut short a trip to Paris for a meeting with French president François Hollande, to chair an emergency meeting of ministers and security officials in London.
“In Britain, we have had these sorts of attacks before. We never buckle.
“The terrorists will never win because they can never beat the values that we hold dear,” he told reporters.
British officials fear that the Woolwich attack marks a significant escalation of the threat facing the British military at home – since they have never previously been successfully targeted by Islamic terrorists, though one planned attack was foiled.
British police and security services have scored a number of successes over recent months against Islamic extremists, which led to the jailing of a Birmingham group who had intended to attack a far-right demonstration.
Last night, dozens of members of the far-right group, the English Defence League – which was targeted last year for attack by a Birmingham group of Muslim extremists – gathered outside a train station in Woolwich to protest against the attack.