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Woolwich attack: police wait to question two suspects
Friday, May 24, 2013

Michael Adebolajo and second suspect remain too badly injured to be interviewed over death of Drummer Lee Rigby.

Detectives are still waiting to question two men arrested over the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby, the young soldier who was hacked to death in London on Wednesday.

It emerged on Thursday that both of the men alleged to have killed Rigby had been known to the domestic security service MI5 and the police over an eight-year period, but had been assessed as peripheral figures and thus not subjected to a full-scale investigation.

One of the two suspects was named as Michael Olumide Adebolajo, who was filmed brandishing knives and justifying the attack as a strike against the west while Rigby lay yards away bloodied and fatally wounded.

Adebolajo, from a Nigerian churchgoing family and who converted to Islam, had complained of harassment by MI5 in the last three years after he came to the intelligence agency's attention.

The identity of the second suspect was not confirmed, but police on Thursday raided a house in Greenwich where Michael Adebowale, 22, was registered as a voter.

The suspects, shot by police shortly after the incident, remain in separate hospitals, too badly injured to be questioned at present.

The Ministry of Defence said on Thursday that 25-year-old Rigby, from Rochdale, had served in the army for seven years and had spent six months in Afghanistan in 2009. He had a two-year-old son, and had been based in London since 2011.

Detectives investigating Rigby's death also arrested a 29-year-old man and woman on suspicion of conspiracy to murder the soldier, suggesting there may have been a wider plot to carry out the attack. The 29-year-old woman was arrested at a flat in Greenwich, south-east London.

David Cameron said on Thursday that parliament's intelligence and security committee would examine the wider role of the police and MI5, an inquiry that is expected to address any lessons that may need to be learned after counter-terrorism officials decided not to monitor the suspects.

Speaking in Downing Street before a visit to Woolwich, Cameron said: "You would not expect me to comment on this when a criminal investigation is ongoing, but what I can say is this: as is the normal practice in these sorts of cases, the Independent Police Complaints Commission will be able to review the actions of the police, and the intelligence and security committee will be able to do the same for the wider agencies, but nothing should be done to get in the way of their absolutely vital work."

There were some suggestions that one of the two men may have tried to visit Somalia. Whitehall sources did not deny reports that one of the suspects was stopped while trying to travel to the wartorn east African country. Somalia is feared by counter-terrorism officials to be a training ground for violent jihadists.

The extremist cleric Omar Bakri Mohammad, who has been expelled from Britain, told the Guardian he had tutored Adebolajo in Islam after he converted to the religion in 2003. He was the former leader of al-Muhajiroun, an organisation banned for professing extremist views. Mohammad described Adebolajo as a shy man who had been angered by the Iraq invasion, and who would ask questions about when violence was justified.

Adebolajo had a Muslim name, Mujaahid, which means one who engages in jihad. He went to meetings of the now-banned Islamist organisation from around 2004 to 2011, but stopped attending meetings and those of its successor organisations two years ago.

The soldier's murder is being treated as a terrorist incident. Cameron chaired another meeting of the government crisis committee Cobra on Thursday. However, the national threat level from al-Qaida-inspired terrorism remains unchanged, suggesting that officials do not believe Britain faces a wave of similar attacks.

The immediate focus is on the criminal investigation. On Thursday, detectives from Scotland Yard's counter-terrorism command raided five addresses in London and one in Lincolnshire that was the Adebolajo family home.

Sources stressed that the investigation was at an early stage, but detectives are examining whether the arrested woman was in a relationship with one of the two men detained on Wednesday, and what the links are between the four people they have in custody. The arrests are a clear signal that counter-terrorism detectives suspect the attackers may not have acted alone.

Adebolajo's mother moved her family out of London to Lincolnshire in an attempt to remove him from the influence of a street gang. But Michael Adebolajo returned to the capital to go to university. The 28-year-old was a regular volunteer at the al-Muhajiroun stall outside HSBC bank on Woolwich high street, handing out extremist literature. One witness said he had recently been seen outside Plumstead community centre encouraging an audience to go to Syria to fight.

His family were churchgoing Christians of Nigerian heritage but he converted to Islam about 10 years ago and investigators are trying to establish how he became radicalised to the point that he may have committed violence.

The murder led to condemnation from President Obama in Washington who said: "I condemn in the strongest terms the appalling attack against a British service member in Woolwich on 22 May. The United States stands resolute with the United Kingdom, our ally and friend, against violent extremism and terror.

"There can be absolutely no justification for such acts, and our thoughts and prayers are with the family of the victim, the police and security services responding to this horrific act and the communities they serve, and the British people. Our special relationship with the United Kingdom is especially important during times of trial."

Among British authorities there are fears of a violence and potential attempts by extremist groups such as the English Defence League to exploit the tragedy. In London, police said they had deployed 1,200 extra officers amid fears of a backlash. Dozens of Islamophobic incidents were reported in the wake of the murder, including attacks on four mosques.

Police countered claims of a delayed response, saying they were first called to reports of a man being attacked in the street at 2.20pm. Four minutes later they were told by witnesses that one attacker had a gun, at which point officers in an armed response vehicle were ordered to the scene.

Five minutes later, at 2.29pm, the first unarmed officers arrived, joined at 2.34pm by arm.


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