23 May 2013
A shocking machete attack on Lee Rigby, a military drummer and veteran of Cyprus and Afghanistan, was perpetrated in the Woolwich area of South East London Wednesday afternoon. One of the two suspected attackers, Michael Olumide Adebolajo, is a native of London and a convert to Islam, leading some to characterize the attack as an act of Islamist terrorism. The second attacker has been identified as Michael Adebowale, a native of Greenwich. The Daily Telegraph is calling the attack, “the first terrorist murder on the British mainland since the 7/7 suicide bombings of 2005.”
Accounts differ as to the nature of the attack, but witnesses claim that Adebolajo and Adebowale first struck Drummer Rigby with a vehicle, then attempted to decapitate him with a machete. Witnesses report hearing one of the attackers shout “Allahu akbar” (God is great) as they attacked Drummer Rigby. A group of women reportedly came to the aid of Drummer Rigby, covering his body and attempting to protect him.
The brazen nature of the murder, carried out around 14:00 GMT, suggests that the assailants wanted their actions to be witnessed. A video taken of Mr. Adebolajo shortly after the attack shows him justifying the murder by saying: “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.”
Instead of fleeing the scene, the attackers, one of whom may have been armed with a handgun, waited for armed police response unites to arrive, apparently hoping for a confrontation. Unconfirmed reports indicate that approximately 15-20 minutes elapsed between the attack and the arrival of authorities and that once on the scene, armed police were charged by the attackers. A female officer confirmed that both men were shot by police.
Reports on Thursday suggested that officials in MI5, the domestic security service, were aware of both men alleged to have carried out the attack. Officials insist that there was no evidence that either of the men were planning this attack, but one of the men was apparently prevented from traveling to Somalia to join the Islamist group Al-Shabaab last year. The Independent is reporting that at least one of the attackers was inspired by sermons delivered by the banned Islamic cleric Omar Bakri Mohammed, who established Hizbut-Tahrir in the UK and now lives in Lebanon. The Guardian is reporting that Mr. Bakri Mohammed claims to have tutored Mr. Adebolajo after he converted to Islam in 2003. The BBC has obtained footage apparently showing Mr. Adebolajo standing next to Anjem Choudary, leader of the banned al-Muhajiroun group, at an Islamist rally in 2007. Mr. Choudary appeared on Newsnight on Thursday, claiming Adebolajo “went his own way” in 2010 and that he was surprised by the attack.
Mr. Adebolajo and Mr. Adebowale are being treated in separate hospitals and both are too injured to be questioned by authorities.