Man arrested for London killing from devoutly Christian family

Michael Adebolajo converted to Islam and joined radical group

Michael Adebolajo, with bloodied hands, speaks into a phone camera following the killing in Woolwich, London, of Drummer Lee Rigby on Wednesday. Photograph: ITV/PA

Michael Adebolajo, with bloodied hands, speaks into a phone camera following the killing in Woolwich, London, of Drummer Lee Rigby on Wednesday. Photograph: ITV/PA


Michael Adebolajo, one of two men arrested for murdering a British soldier on the streets of Woolwich, had been reduced to tears on occasions by deaths in Afghanistan.

Friends had become concerned by the drift in the 28-year-old’s opinions recently, which had seen him giving sermons in Woolwich in recent months close to where Wednesday’s attack occurred.

Brought up in a devoutly Christian family by his Nigerian-born parents, he had rebelled in his teens, joining a radical Muslim organisation, Al-Muhajiroun. However, he had become a Muslim two years before his association with Al-Muhajiroun, which began around the time of the London 7/7 bombings in 2005.

His opinions had hardened by then. Soon he had taken the name for a time of Mujahid, meaning “fighter”, according to one friend, Abu Nusaybah, who spoke to the Times yesterday.

“ [He] was a strong character, but I remember years back [British] foreign policy would bring him to tears – then he just went quiet,” he said.

Born in Lambeth in south London in December 1984, Adebolajo was raised by his parents with his three siblings in Romford in Essex.

Well integrated
His parents both worked for the National Health Service. Unlike some children of immigrants, Adebolajo appears to have been well integrated in the local community, with mostly white friends coming daily to the family’s home.

On friend said: “He started getting involved with Islam aged about 15 or 16, and that is why his parents moved him away out of the area. It is utterly shocking to see what he has done. It’s unbelievable.”

His parents divorced and Adebolajo moved to Saxilby in Lincolnshire – a location that was chosen, it is believed, because of its distance from “bad influences”’ on a troublesome teenager.

During his school years in the Marshall Park School in Romford and, later, Havering Sixth Form College, Adebolajo was popular, and remembered for his height.

Later, according to friends, he fell in with “the wrong crowd” in Hackney which led to ongoing rows with his parents. On one occasion he is alleged to have attacked his father’s car with a brick.

Later still, he returned to Romford from Lincolnshire, living in a flat near neighbour Graham Wells until he moved out last year. Wells described him as “a lovely bloke who always had a smile on his face”.

Unlike some who had developed extremist views, Adebolajo continued to wear tracksuits, sunglasses and Nike trainers, never speaking to neighbours about politics.

Known then as “Jay”, a nickname from schooldays, Adebolajo used to smoke cannabis with friends, along with playing football on a nearby basketball court.

Wednesday’s events in Woolwich led yesterday to a police raid on his father’s home in Lincolnshire, while his sister’s home in Romford was also searched by police.

Adebolajo and his still unnamed companion had come to the attention of the security services. This news drew contradictory reactions from security analysts when it emerged last night.

It is being viewed positively that they had appeared on MI5’s radar, because the alternative – that they had evaded attention – would be the nightmare scenario.

However, MI5 and the Metropolitan Police will now have to explain, privately at least, to ministers, why they decided the pair were not worthy of full-time surveillance.

Understandably, not every suspect can be followed or monitored, but a moment occurred in Adebolajo’s developing relationship with extremist Islam that was missed by the intelligence services.