LONDON (REUTERS) – British authorities believe that two men accused of hacking a soldier to death on a London street in revenge for wars in Muslim countries are British of Nigerian descent, a source close to the investigation said Thursday.
Local media named one of the two suspects as British-born, 28-year-old Londoner Michael Adebolajo and said police raided homes of relatives in the city and near the town of Lincoln. both men involved in Wednesday’s attack appeared to have converted to Islam from Christian backgrounds, media said.
Adebolajo and the other man, who may have been born abroad, are both in custody in hospitals after being shot by police.
As security experts highlighted the risk to Western cities of “lone wolf” attacks – similar to last month’s Boston Marathon bombing – by local people radicalised over the Internet, 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 Britainsince 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. There is nothing in Islam that justifies this truly dreadful act.”
He noted that security sources have said both suspects had been known to intelligence services and said there would in due course be a routine review of how intelligence had been handled.
One source close to the inquiry said the apparently local backgrounds of the suspects in a multicultural metropolis - nearly 40 per cent of all Londoners were born abroad – and the simplicity of the attack made such incidents hard to prevent.
“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.”
Mr Anjem Choudary, one of Britain’s most recognised Islamist clerics, told Reuters THAT Adebolajo, was known to fellow Muslims as Mujahid – a name meaning “warrior": “He used to attend a few demonstrations and activities that we used to have in the past.”
He added that he had not seen him for about two years: “When I knew him he was very pleasant man,”
Cleric Choudary said. “He was peaceful, unassuming and I don’t think there’s any reason to think he would do anything violent.”
The two men used a car to run down the young soldier, whose name has not been released, 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 by British media 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.”
The attack revived fears of “lone wolves”. These may have had no direct contact with Al Qaeda but are inspired by radical preachers and by Islamist militant Web sites, some of which urge people to attack Western targets with whatever means they have.
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.
British media quoted local people as saying Adebolajo grew up locally and attended a nearby university at Greenwich.
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.