Woolwich attack: why was suspect Michael Adebolajo free to kill?
One of the two suspected Islamist terrorists who allegedly butchered a British soldier on a London street had been known to the security services and police for a decade.
Michael Adebolajo, 28, was the man videoed by witnesses with his hands red with blood following the killing of the soldier, who was named as Drummer Lee Rigby, 25, the father of a two-year-old son.
The second suspect was last night identified by The Times as Michael Adebowale, 22, from Greenwich. His flat was reported to have been raided by police.
David Cameron said there would be a full investigation by the Security and Intelligence Committee after it emerged that both of the attackers were known to the police and MI5, but neither was assessed as a major security risk.
The Telegraph has learnt that six years ago Adebolajo was arrested after being involved in violent protests by extremists outside the Old Bailey. He was a regular member of a small group of hardcore fanatics who regularly protested alongside some of Britain’s most notorious hate clerics. He was seen preaching anti-Western rhetoric in Woolwich as recently as last week. At one stage he is believed to have tried to travel to Somalia to join the terrorist network Al-Shabaab, but was forced to return to Britain.
Anjem Choudary, the former leader of banned radical group al-Muhajiroun, said Adebolajo regularly attended meetings and demonstrations held by his group and successor organisations.
Omar Bakri Mohammed, a hate preacher banned from Britain, claimed he had converted Adebolajo himself.
The disclosure of his close association with some of Britain’s most notorious Islamic extremists is likely to raise further questions about why he was not deemed a serious threat by the security services.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission will carry out an investigation into Scotland Yard’s actions.
Drummer Rigby, of 2nd Bn The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, was run over and attacked with knives and cleavers as he walked back to barracks in Woolwich, south-east London on Wednesday afternoon. Known as “Riggers”, he was praised by his colleagues as a “true warrior” who had served in Afghanistan, Cyprus and Germany, and by his family as a loving father to his son, Jack.
His family said: “Lee was lovely. He would do anything for anybody, he always looked after his sisters and always protected them. His family meant everything to him. He was a loving son, husband, father, brother, and uncle and a friend to many. He took a 'big brother’ role with everyone. All he wanted to do from when he was a little boy, was be in the Army.”
WO1 Ned Miller, the Regimental Sergeant Major, said: “Riggers was one of the battalion’s great characters, always smiling and always ready to brighten the mood with his fellow fusiliers.”
Speaking outside No 10, the British Prime Minister said: “The people who did this were trying to divide us. They should know something like this will only bring us closer together and make us stronger.
“Our thoughts today are with the victim and with his family. They are grieving for their loved one and we have lost a brave soldier.”
He praised Ingrid Loyau-Kennett, who put her own life at risk to remonstrate with the dead man’s attackers, saying: “She speaks for all of us.”
Both suspects are still in hospital in a stable condition. According to security sources, they are likely to be fit enough to face trial.
Police have raided a total of six addresses including the £365,000 home in Lincolnshire owned by Adebolajo’s father, Anthony, who works as a mental health nurse for the NHS.
In London, detectives arrested a 29-year-old man and a 29-year-old woman on suspicion of conspiracy to murder.
Adebolajo is the son of devout Christian Nigerian immigrants, who settled in Romford, east London. He went to the local school, where he was described by his friends as a “regular guy” until he reached his teens, when his life changed dramatically after he became involved with drugs.
One friend said: “Michael was into his football and was a Spurs supporter. All his friends were white. He was just a normal lad but as he got older he started to go off the rails.
“He was really intelligent and his parents were desperate for him to do well at school but then he got into smoking weed and also started dealing.” Another classmate said that Adebolajo, known as “Narn”, began to turn violent. “[He started] holding knives up to people’s throats, getting their phones etc. He’d show us the phones he’d stolen.”
Omar Bakri Mohammed, who described the 9/11 hijackers as the “magnificent 19”, said he personally converted Adebolajo when he was in his early 20s. “We used to have a stall on the street in London where we would talk about the meaning of life with passers-by,” he said. “He stopped to speak with us and we invited him to Islam. Because he is a convert, I can still remember him. At that time there were a lot of conflicts around the world, and in Iraq and in Afghanistan especially. We talked to him about these and he sympathised with the Muslim people, it seemed.”
Scotland Yard hit back at claims it had taken them too long to respond to the attack, saying it took 14 minutes for armed police to arrive.