Extremist was reported to police for trying to radicalise children
One of the three jihadists who murdered revellers in central London on Saturday had been reported to the anti-terror police on at least two occasions, it has been claimed.
A former friend of the terrorist, who was shot dead by police along with two accomplices, claimed he had been radicalised while watching YouTube videos and said he contacted the authorities after becoming concerned over his friend’s extremist views.
A neighbour also claimed she had contacted police in Barking, east London, after the suspect tried to convert her children to Islam and radicalise them. The man is not being named at the request of the police.
The former friend claimed he contacted police after comments the man made about other previous attacks. But he said the authorities had failed to act and take action despite evidence of increasingly extremist views.
The friend told the BBC’s Asian Network that the terrorist had been radicalised watching videos of the infamous American hate preacher Ahmad Musa Jibril.
He said: “We spoke about a particular attack that happened and like most radicals he had a justification for anything and everything and that day I realised I needed to contact the authorities.”
He added: “He used to listen to a lot of Musa Jibril. I have heard some of this stuff and its very radical. I am surprised this stuff is still on YouTube and is easily accessible. I phoned the anti-terror hotline. I spoke to the gentleman. I told him about our conversation and why I think he was radicalised.”
However, he said he was not arrested and was allowed to keep his passport. “I did my bit, I know a lot of other people did their bit, but the authorities did not do their bit,” the friend said.
Erica Gasparri, an Italian mother of three who lived close to him, claimed she had reported him to Barking police two years ago, after he began “brainwashing” her children at a local park. She said she had confronted him after her two children came home and said: “Mummy I want to become a Muslim.”
She said the police had told her the information had been passed to Scotland Yard but she had heard nothing more.
Ms Gasparri said: “He was trying to radicalise the children, he would go down to the park and talk to them about Islam. He also came to the houses and gave the kids money and sweets during Ramadan.”
Anti-terror police raided the block of flats on King’s Road in Barking, where the man was believed to live with his wife and two children. Many of the locals described him as “polite and normal” and said they were shocked that he could be a terrorist.
Residents said he was a keen football fan who also enjoyed body-building at a local gym. But it also emerged that he was thrown out of his local mosque two years ago after clashing with the Imam about politics.
The jihadist was wearing his Arsenal away shirt when he and two others went on the rampage at London Bridge, leaving seven dead and almost 50 injured. All three were shot dead by armed police in Borough Market, eight minutes after launching the attack.
Early on Sunday morning, armed police stormed the ground-floor flat where he lived, arresting members of his family. Similar raids were carried out at other addresses across east London including in East Ham and Leyton.
Building worker Seva Litvjakovs, 35, who lives in the same block of flats, said he had been woken by the sound of the police raid. He said: “I read news reports and began putting together what had happened. I realised that one of the attackers looked exactly like one of my neighbours.
“I looked on Twitter and saw one of the terrorists who had been shot by police and he looked 90 per cent like my neighbour. He was even wearing the same Arsenal shirt that I had seen him in at 5pm that evening.”
The outrage began shortly after 10pm when the gang began ploughing into pedestrians in London Bridge in a white van. Ken Chigbo, 26, a market analyst, who was another neighbour, claimed the terror suspect had recently asked him how to go about hiring a vehicle.
He said: “I was in the process of loading up a van I had rented as we are moving house and he came over for a chat.
“He was lovely, really enthusiastic about my move and was really nice saying he wished me all the best. He said to me, ‘Oh, where did you get your van, Ken? How much is it, is it possible to get in automatic?’ All these specific questions about the van, which obviously now makes sense in my head. At the time I didn’t think anything of it.”
He said only last week he had hosted a barbecue for locals, holding it on a green and inviting all the neighbours. Another resident of the neat, modern block said he had seen the suspect attending the local mosque and was certain the dead terrorist pictured lying on the ground was his neighbour.
He said: “I cannot understand why he would do something like this. He has a toddler and a baby, it’s madness.”
Samiya Mohammed, 18, said: “He lived there for about three years and would often have barbecues and would play football with the kids in the street.
“Whenever it was sunny he would come out and buy ice creams for the kids. I cannot believe that it is him.”
But a spokesman at the local Ahlulistiqamah Mosque said he was thrown out two years ago after clashing with the Imam over the general election.
The spokesman said: “The Imam was forced to ask him to leave two years ago. He was giving a speech on the up-and-coming general election and the Imam was explaining how it was important to vote wisely. He got angry, complaining that it was nothing to do with him, and interrupted the Imam. He was then asked to leave.”
Twelve people were arrested by police at addresses in Barking, while during a raid in East Ham, a suspect made a rooftop dash for freedom, barefoot and in his pyjamas, as police marksmen threatened to shoot him. Shoppers witnessed five armed and masked police smash through a flat door connected to a Paddy Power betting shop on Barking Road.
Shimmy Ali, 32, who was out meeting a friend for lunch, said: “I looked and five masked men with guns were smashing into the flat. It took me a minute to realise they were police.
“A few seconds after they went in, a black man wearing a grey vest and blue joggers climbed out of the window above Paddy Power. A police marksman on the other side of the road was screaming to go back inside and saying he would shoot him.
“The man jumped on to the roof of Sam’s takeaway and then across to Barking Food and Wine. That’s where another officer managed to reach out and grab hold of him.”
This is what we know about the three attackers so far:
:: One lived in Barking, east London, and had recently hired the van they used. He even spoke to a neighbour about where he could get one.
:: A friend told the BBC Asian Network he had reported him to the anti-terror hotline after he began expressing increasingly radical views and justifying terror attacks, but the friend said he was never arrested.
:: Residents at the Elizabeth Fry flats in King's Road, Barking - where a number of arrests were made on Sunday - said they recognised the attacker from a photograph and said he was of middle-eastern or Pakistani origin, had children, and had lived in the area for a number of years.
:: One neighbour described how the man once advised him of the need to be a faithful Muslim.
:: All three were wearing what looked like explosive vests, but these were later found to be hoaxes. At least one was wearing combat trousers.
:: Armed with 12-inch knives they shouted "this is for Allah" as they made their way through pubs and restaurants in Borough Market.
:: Addresses in Barking and East Ham were raided in connection with the attack.