London attacker frequented banned Islamist group: Ex-chief

LONDON (AFP) - One of the two suspected Islamists accused of hacking a British soldier to death in London was a convert who regularly attended sermons by banned Islamist preacher Omar Bakri, an associate of Bakri said on Thursday.

Mr Anjem Choudary - the former leader of Bakri's Al-Muhajiroun group in Britain, which was proscribed under anti-terror laws - told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that the man filmed with a bloodied meat cleaver at the site of Wednesday's murder was called Mujahid.

Known as Michael before he converted to Islam in 2003, Mr Choudary said Mujahid was a "peaceful chap" before he drifted off the radical scene three years ago. He was from a Nigerian family.

"I knew one of them, Mujahid," Mr Choudary told AFP in a telephone interview. "He used to attend some of our activities over the years. Very peaceful chap actually, not violent at all, very pleasant.

"We lost any kind of contact with him about three years ago. So I don't know what he has been up to but it was a bit of a shock what we saw yesterday.

"He wasn't a member (of Al-Muhajiroun), he was not intellectually affiliated. I wouldn't say he was a member but he attended some of the activities, demonstrations, processions, talks.

"Even Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad, who's now in Lebanon, remembered him. So he was definitely there prior to 2005 and I think he disappeared off the scene probably 2009, 2010."

A notorious figure in Britain, Bakri left London for Lebanon in 2005 and was swiftly told he would not be allowed back in.

Asked about the other suspect, Mr Choudary said: "I couldn't recognise him."

Both alleged attackers were shot by armed police officers. They are under armed guard in separate hospitals.

It was widely reported that the men were known to the security services, which Mr Choudary said would be no surprise.

In his diatribe before onlookers, Mujahid spoke about Prime Minister David Cameron and pulling British troops out of foreign countries.

Mr Choudary said Mujahid was "a normal guy really, he used to propagate Islam, concerned about foreign policy".

"From his own message, there's a direct link between the British foreign policy and what took place yesterday. He mentioned the British troops in Afghanistan and talked about Cameron.

"He had a chance to attack other people but he only attacked that individual.

"Over the years, there has been more and more screw-turning by the British government, more and more oppression against the Muslim community. They've tried to silence organisations like ourselves by banning them and proscribing them.

"Therefore there's much less avenue to express yourself ideologically and politically and therefore it's no surprise that people possibly - and I don't know this for sure - go onto the Internet and come across other organisations who don't believe in a covenant of security at all. People like Al-Qaeda."

Asked if he condemned Mujahid's actions, he replied: "I condemn the British government. I think the ones who radicalised him, the ones who put people like that in that position, are the British by their very brutal foreign policy... Now they have a reaction."