Woolwich terror suspect was arrested by Kenyan police
Michael Adebolajo held in 2010 over suspected extremist activity then deported to Britain
Lyn Rigby (second right), the mother of murdered British soldier Lee Rigby, and his stepfather Ian (second left), look at floral tributes left at the scene of his killing in Woolwich, London, yesterday. Photograph: Olivia Harris/Reuters
Michael Adebolajo, one of two men arrested over last week’s attack in Woolwich, was detained by Kenyans for suspected extremist activity in 2010 and later deported back to Britain, the British foreign office confirmed yesterday.
Kenyan counterterrorism police arrested Mr Adebolajo after he allegedly attempted to join up with al-Shabaab Islamist militants in neighbouring Somalia. He appeared in court under a different name, Michael Olemendis Ndemolajo. The foreign office said it had provided him with “consular assistance” after he was held, “as is normal for British nationals detained”.
The arrest raises questions as to why the security services did not monitor Mr Adebolajo more closely on his return to the UK, given his apparent unsuccessful attempt to fight alongside jihadist extremists. Kenyan officials indicated yesterday they had briefed their British intelligence counterparts about his radical activities.
“Kenya’s government arrested Michael Olemendis Ndemolajo. We handed him to British security agents in Kenya and he seems to have found his way to London and mutated to Michael Adebolajo,” a Kenyan counterterrorism spokesman, Muthui Kariuki, told the Associated Press. He added: “The Kenyan government cannot be held responsible for what happened to him after we handed him to the British authorities.”
Mr Adebolajo was arrested in November 2010 together with seven other young Islamists. Kenyan police captured the group after they travelled by speedboat from the Indian Ocean island of Lamu to Kizingitini, on Pate Island, 40 miles from the Somali border. The police acted following a tip-off.
Two of those apprehended were teenage schoolboys who had apparently been radicalised during regular visits to a mosque in Mombasa.
Released without charge
The Kenyan authorities later released the group without charge. Mr Adebolajo told local media the police had severely mistreated him. According to family members he was beaten, and threatened with rape and death. There is evidence he subsequently lodged a complaint. Kenyan officials deny wrongdoing.
His family say he returned to the UK a changed and embittered man. His brother-in-law, who did not wish to be identified, said: “He was very withdrawn. And he saw everyone in authority as being his torturer.”
At this point, 2½ years ago, according to relatives, MI5 began to take an increased interest in Mr Adebolajo. “They had been interested in him for years,” the brother-in-law said.
“MI5 asked me about him in 2009. But they began pestering him after he came back from Kenya. They would be banging on his door or approaching him in the street. It was happening constantly; it was every couple of days. At first they wanted information, then they wanted him to spy for them. I assume they wanted him to spy on Muslims.”
Mr Adebolajo last saw his sister – a fellow convert to Islam – and his brother-in-law two weeks ago, when he visited their home in Lancashire, northwest England. His brother-in-law said: “He seemed fine then. We talked about doing some charity work. Since then his wife has given birth to a son, and that was a cause of great pride for him.”
It is unclear why Mr Adebolajo did not face prosecution on his return to the UK, if there was evidence to support allegations that he went to Somalia to seek training with al-Shabaab. Somalia has long been a magnet for British jihadists. More than 100 UK nationals are believed to have trained or fought there up to 2011, according to British intelligence and security sources. Those who are successful at crossing the border often vanish and are never heard from again.
Al-Shabaab, meaning “the youth” in Arabic, is a militant group that formed in Somalia in 2006 to fight for a fundamentalist Islamic state. Its insurgency is now considered to be on the wane, but it is still active in Somalia and instigates regular suicide attacks.
Western-backed Kenyan anti-terror police have been proactive since Kenyan troops entered Somalia in October 2011 and al-Shabaab promised to wreak revenge. But this has not been without consequences: many human rights groups and analysts say the Kenyans have been heavy handed in their approach.
“Terrorism has become an easy label, especially along the Kenyan coast. The anti-terrorism unit has been especially brutal, even against the families of the suspected terrorists,” said Abdullahi Halakhe, former Horn of Africa analyst at the International Crisis Group.
MI5 will be questioned this week about its alleged connections with Mr Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, the second suspect in the murder of Lee Rigby. Members of the Intelligence and Security Committee, the panel of MPs and peers that provides oversight of the UK’s intelligence agencies, will ask what exactly the agency knew about their links to extremism. – (Guardian service)