Meat cleaver-wielding man in London beheading identified, two more arrested

Posted at 4:25 PM, May 23, 2013
and last updated 2013-05-23 16:38:05-04
London beheading attack

Friends and acquaintances, as well as British media, identified this man as Michael Adebolajo.

LONDON (CNN) — British police have arrested two more people as part of the probe of the brutal cleaver attack that killed a soldier.

A man and a woman, both 29, were arrested Thursday on suspicion of conspiracy to murder, London’s Metropolitan Police said. No further details were given.

Warranted searches have been carried out at six residential addresses, police said.

“This is a large, complex and fast-moving investigation which continues to develop,” police said in a statement. “Many lines of inquiry are being followed by detectives and the investigation is progressing well.”

The scene Wednesday in southeast London’s Woolwich neighborhood — as revealed through cell phone camera footage and witness accounts — was gory, and for many difficult to believe.

And the words of one suspected attacker — holding a meat cleaver and large kitchen knife in his bloody hands — were likewise jarring, and raised questions about Islamic extremism within and outside Britain.

“The only reasons we killed this man … is because Muslims are dying daily,” one man said, as his victim lay mutilated in the street behind him, in video aired by CNN affiliate ITN.

“This British soldier is an eye for an eye, a tooth for tooth,” he said. “We swear by almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you until you leave us alone.”

Friends and acquaintances, as well as British media, identified this man as Michael Adebolajo.

Abu Barra, a friend, called Adebolajo a “very caring, very concerning” man who “just wanted to help everybody.” Adebolajo was also “very vocal” about his feelings that Muslims overseas were being oppressed, and his feelings about the British government’s foreign policy.

“I wasn’t surprised that it happened,” Barra told CNN. “…Britain is only responsible, the government, and I believe all of us, as a public, we are responsible. We should condemn ourselves, why we did not do enough to stop these wars going on in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Adebolajo and the other man arrested at the scene, after being shot in a confrontation with police, were in stable condition Thursday evening at separate South London hospitals, the Metropolitan Police tweeted.

The man who was first hit by a car, then hacked to death, is Lee Rigby, who held the rank of drummer, the Ministry of Defense said.

Prime Minister: Britain will be ‘absolutely resolute’

Britain’s capital has not witnessed an alert of this kind since the summer of 2005, when London’s public transport network was targeted with coordinated bomb attacks.

Prime Minister David Cameron, who rushed back Wednesday night from an official trip to Paris, told reporters Thursday that Britain would be “absolutely resolute” in the face of terrorism.

“We will never give in to terror or terrorism in any form,” he said.

Cameron spoke after a crisis meeting of senior officials Thursday morning — the second in 24 hours — as security was increased at army bases around London amid fears of additional attacks.

Amid concern over a backlash against the Muslim community, Cameron insisted the slaying had nothing to do with Islam, despite the claims made by one of the suspected attackers.

It is understood that the two people suspected of carrying out the knife attack were known to Britain’s domestic security service. They had featured in previous investigations into other people, but were not themselves under surveillance.

Prominent British Muslim radical leader Anjem Choudary told CNN on Thursday that he knew one of the men named on social media as carrying out the Woolwich knife attack.

Choudary said the suspect had attended demonstrations and a few lectures organized by Choudary’s group Al-Muhajiroun.

Searches have been carried out at locations in connection with the slaying, Assistant Commissioner for Specialist Crime and Operations Mark Rowley said. One address searched was in Lincolnshire in eastern England.

An additional 1,200 police are on London’s streets to reassure the public, Rowley said, with extra patrols at key locations such as religious institutions and transport hubs.

“We are also liaising closely with the military to ensure appropriate security measures are in place in relation to military premises and personnel,” he said.

‘Butcher’s tools’

As the initial shock over the man’s gory death at the hands of two knife-wielding men ebbed Thursday, an individual story of courage stood out.

A Cub Scout leader, Ingrid Loyau-Kennett, told Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper how she had jumped off a bus to try to revive a man she at first thought had been hurt in an accident.

But she swiftly realized the man was dead, and it was not an accident.

“When I went up, there was this black guy with a revolver and a kitchen knife. He had what looked like butcher’s tools, and he had a little axe, to cut the bones, and two large knives, and he said, ‘Move off the body,’ ” she told the newspaper.

“So I thought, ‘OK, I don’t know what is going on here,’ and he was covered with blood. I thought I had better start talking to him before he starts attacking somebody else.”

A man who identified himself as James told London’s LBC 97.3 radio station that he saw two men standing by the victim, who was on the ground.

At first, James thought they were trying to help the man. But then he saw two meat cleavers, like a butcher would have.

“They were hacking at this poor guy, literally,” he told the radio station. “These two guys were crazed. They were just not there. They were just animals.”

‘People will break’

Residents on Thursday shared with CNN their shock that something like this could have happened in the working-class, multicultural area where they live and work.

Construction worker Victor Easdown, who heard the shots ring out as police took on the attackers, fears the incident may fuel tensions and reprisal attacks.

“People can only take so much. And people will break,” he said.

Graham Wilder, a resident whose son attends a nearby school, said he feared for the safety of his family and other children who had just left the school Wednesday afternoon.

After he saw that one of the attackers had a gun, he alerted police and school authorities, Wilder said. He heard shots fired and screamed for his wife, who was at a nearby store, to get down.

Reprisal attacks

There were concerns the brutal incident might inflame animosity against Muslims, with Metropolitan Police deploying riot police Wednesday as a precautionary measure.

The Muslim Council of Britain, after condemning what it called “a truly barbaric act that has no basis in Islam,” urged Muslims and non-Muslims alike “to come together in solidarity to ensure the forces of hatred do not prevail.”

“What we have seen on the streets of London has been particularly sickening, a really, really heinous act of I would say criminality — and I’m being careful to say criminality, not terrorism,” political and social commentator Mohammed Ansar told CNN.

The motivation behind what happened remains unclear, he pointed out.

“What we need at this time is a sense of calm, a sense of measure and a sense of perspective. What we don’t need are knee-jerk reactions … to really ratchet up tensions and really stoke and inflame anxieties within communities.”

Members of the far-right English Defense League clashed with police late Wednesday.

The group’s official Twitter account posted this call to action: “ANY EDL MEMBERS TAKE TO THE STREETS IN YOUR LOCAL TOWN/CITY TAKE A STAND !!!!!!”

Later Wednesday, a man with two knives threw a smoke grenade into a mosque in Essex, a county east of London, and demanded someone come outside to answer to the Woolwich slaying, the mosque’s secretary said. Police responded quickly and arrested the man, said Al Falah Braintree Islamic Center secretary Sikander Sleemy.

In Kent, police arrested a man on suspicion of “racially aggravated criminal damage” at a religious building.

Soldiers targeted before

Nick Raynsford, the member of Parliament for Woolwich, told CNN the soldier apparently had been on duty in central London and was returning to the barracks when he was attacked.

Troops stationed at the historic military barracks have a close relationship with locals, the Parliament member said.

British soldiers have participated in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. They are due to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

This isn’t the first time British soldiers have been singled out.

Last month, four radical Islamists were convicted at Woolwich Crown Court of a plot to drive a car full of explosives, by remote control, into an army barracks in Luton, north of London.

Several years earlier, police interrupted a scheme in which Islamists planned to kidnap a soldier of Pakistani heritage and behead him. Their plan called for releasing an Internet video of the decapitation.

Local residents said police responded quickly when the alarm was raised Wednesday afternoon but questioned how long it had taken for a specialist firearms unit to arrive. British police typically don’t carry guns.

The Metropolitan Police said its first officers were on the scene within nine minutes of the alert being raised. The firearms unit was there 14 minutes after the first call was made, the force said.