Barbaric scenes on London street as soldier beheaded in terrorist attack
Shoppers on a busy London street looked on in horror as two men brandishing meat cleavers hacked an off-duty soldier "like a piece of meat" in broad daylight.
Two Islamist terrorists who proclaimed: "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" tried to behead the soldier and hacked him to pieces in front of dozens of witnesses before being shot by the police on a busy street in Woolwich yesterday.
After the murder, one of the men, speaking with a London accent and holding up a bloodied knife and a meat cleaver, calmly spoke into a witness's video phone.
"We swear by almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you until you leave us alone. Your people will never be safe. The only reason we have done this is because Muslims are dying by British soldiers every day.
"We must fight them as they fight us. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth."
"I apologise that women had to witness this today but in our lands our women have to see the same. You people will never be safe. Remove your government, they don't care about you.
"Do you think David Cameron is going to get caught in the street when we start busting our guns? Do you think your politicians are going to die? No, it's going to be the average guy like you, and your children.
"So get rid of them. Tell them to bring our troops back so we – so you can all live in peace."
As they attacked the soldier, one of the men shouted "Allahu akbar", or God is great, according to the BBC, while another witness said they appeared to pray next to the body as if the solder was a "sacrifice".
Their victim, wearing a Help for Heroes T-shirt and thought to be aged around 20, had reportedly been on duty at an army recruitment office in central London and was on his way back to the Royal Artillery Barracks, just yards from the scene in Woolwich, south-east London, when he was murdered at 2.20pm.
It emerged last night that passers-by bravely went to the soldier's body to see if there was anything they could do. One of the killers ordered that only women could tend to the body, not men.
There were also questions over why it took 20 minutes for armed police to arrive on the scene, during which time the killers calmly walked up and down the road, carrying their bloodied knives and a pistol, while members of the public confronted them.
When police did arrive, both attackers tried to rush at the police and were shot, reportedly by a female officer.
Last night they were under armed guard in separate hospitals. Their British accents suggested they were "home-grown" terrorists and security sources said they did not believe anyone else was involved.
British Prime Minister David Cameron described the attack, which had chilling echoes of a plot to behead a soldier foiled in Birmingham in 2006, as "absolutely sickening" but said that Britain would "never buckle" in the face of terrorism.
This morning he will chair a meeting of the government's Cobra emergency briefing committee to be updated on developments.
Speaking in Paris, where he had been meeting Francois Hollande, he said: "We have suffered these attacks before. We have always beaten them back. We have done that through a combination of vigilance, of security, of good policing."
After a Cobra meeting last night, chaired by Theresa May, the home secretary, security was tightened at all London barracks.
Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, who also attended the meeting, said: "I know that Londoners have been through terrorism before and this city has huge resilience. What we also have is the best, most professional security services and the best police in the world to protect us."
Despite the attack, the Queen yesterday announced that she will go ahead with a planned visit to the King's Troop Royal Horse Artillery at Woolwich barracks next week, just yards from the scene of the attack.
The unprecedented murder appeared to have been planned to ensure maximum publicity, with the killers urging witnesses to take their picture "as if they wanted to be on TV".
Witnesses said that they used their car to run over the soldier before setting about him with knives and a meat cleaver as if they were "trying to remove organs". One unconfirmed report suggested he had been completely beheaded.
One witness, identified only as James, said he and his partner watched in horror as they realised what they were seeing. He shouted at the men to stop, only for one to pull out a gun and threaten to shoot him.
After driving his car further up the road, he stopped and called the police, telling them to bring armed units because "these two guys are literally chopping this guy to bits".
He said: "These two guys are chopping this guy to pieces, literally hacking at something like it's a bit of meat. These two guys were crazed, they were just animals.
"They then dragged the poor guy from the pavement and dumped his body in the middle of the road. They were standing there with the knives in their hand, waving the gun about.
"There were police at the end of the road but there were no police in the vicinity of the attackers. I think they were proud of what they were doing."
TV footage of the incident showed one woman crouched over the body of the dead soldier in an attempt to shield it from further attack.
The Muslim Council of Britain condemned the killing as a "truly barbaric" act with "no basis in Islam". A spokesman said: "Our thoughts are with the victim and his family. We understand the victim is a serving member of the armed forces. Muslims have long served in this country's armed forces, proudly and with honour. This attack is dishonourable."