The U.K. government said a 25-year-old soldier was the victim of a terrorist attack yesterday that Prime Minister David Cameron called a “betrayal of Islam.”
Lee Rigby, a drummer in the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, was the soldier killed by two men wielding knives and meat cleavers outside of army barracks in London yesterday, the Ministry of Defence said in a statement. The native of Manchester, England, had served in Afghanistan and Cyprus before returning to London in 2011.
“There is nothing in Islam that justifies this truly dreadful act,” Cameron told reporters outside his London office today after a meeting of the Cabinet’s emergency committee, the second in less than 24 hours. The blame “lies purely with the sickening individuals who carried out this attack.”
Rigby, who had a 2-year-old son, was attacked just after 2 p.m. yesterday outside a military barracks in Woolwich, southeast London. When officers arrived at the scene, they shot, wounded and arrested two armed men. Police searched a house in Lincolnshire as part of the probe, which is being conducted by the Met’s counter-terrorism command, spokeswomen for the London and Lincolnshire forces said.
Video footage broadcast by ITV News showed a black man, his hands covered in blood and holding a cleaver and a knife, speaking after the attack. “We must fight them as they fight us,” he said in a London accent. “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Your people will never be safe. Remove your government, they don’t care about you.” The man apologized that women had to witness the incident. “In our lands, our women see the same,” he said.
The suspects were known to the security services, according to a person familiar with the investigation who declined to be named for legal reasons.
Cameron warned against “knee-jerk responses” to the attack, following U.K. media reports of unrest in the Woolwich area last night sparked by members of the English Defence League, which campaigns against immigration.
The attackers were yelling “Allahu akbar,” meaning “God is great” in Arabic, Sky News television and the BBC reported.
“On our televisions last night -- and in our newspapers this morning -- we have all seen images that are deeply shocking,” Cameron said. “The people who did this were trying to divide us. They should know: something like this will only bring us together and make us stronger.”
Britain’s Press Association newswire said the property being searched in Eastern England was in Saxilby, close to the city of Lincoln. A home in Greenwich, near the attacks, was also searched and four people were taken away by police, the BBC reported.
The BBC and other U.K. media identified one of the suspects as Michael Adebolajo. The Independent newspaper reported today that Adebolajo was known to belong to a banned Islamist organization, Al Muhajiroun, which favors sharia law and publicly celebrated the Sept. 11 bombings in the U.S. He went by the name of Mujahid -- a Muslim engaged in holy war -- up until two years ago, Anjem Choudary, the former leader of the group, was cited as saying by the newspaper. No charges have been filed by police.
It’s the first actual, rather than planned, attack in Britain investigated as a possible act of terrorism since July 7, 2005. Fifty-two people were killed when four Islamist suicide bombers set off explosions on underground trains and a bus in central London during the morning rush hour.
Security was tightened at Woolwich and other London barracks, Cameron’s office said last night. There was no change to the terror threat level in the U.K. from “substantial,” meaning an attack is a “strong possibility,” following the incident, the Cabinet Office said.
A tent still covered the site of the attack in Woolwich today as police and forensics officers examined the scene. One was digging up the grass verge with a spade. A line of police clad in dark blue overalls scoured the grass for clues 24 hours after the attack took place.
The public were kept away by a police cordon, where flowers were being left to be taken up to the intersection where the soldier was killed. A group of Sikhs from a nearby temple delivered a bouquet, as did a group of workers from the local council. One man whose son had been killed on active military service brought a bunch of red roses. More flowers were laid at the entrance to the barracks.
This morning’s emergency meeting discussed “community cohesion,” Cameron’s office said. “The strength and unity of response from Muslim community leaders was recognized and commended by ministers and others around the table,” according to the statement.
“One of the best ways of defeating terrorism is to go about our normal lives,” said Cameron, who went to visit the barracks this afternoon. “And that is what we shall all do.”