ABOVE PHOTO: A tent is erected near the scene of an attack in Woolwich southeast London Wednesday, May, 22, 2013. A British official says a violent attack near a London barracks is being investigated as a possible terrorist act. Police said two men attacked another man on Wednesday. One man is dead and two others were injured.
(AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
By Cassandra Vinograd and Paisley Dodds
LONDON— In a brutal daylight attack which raised fears that terrorism had returned to London, two men with butcher knives hacked another man to death near a military barracks Wednesday before police wounded them in a shootout.
In a shocking video broadcast on British TV, one man gestured with bloodied hands, waving a butcher knife in the air and shouting political statements against the British government as pedestrians milled about a body lying motionless on the street. Bloodstains coated the street.
British officials said the attack appeared to be an act of terrorism, possibly motivated by radical Islam.
The U.K. Daily Mail identified one of the attackers as Michael Adebolajo, 28, of Lambeth, south London. At the age of 15 or 16 he started getting involved in Islam and started to speak about Jihadi ideas. Adebolajo then joined several extremist groups – including Al Muhajiroun – that were banned in Britain and in 2003 converted to Islam, calling himself Mujaheed while at Marshalls Park School. Fearing he had become radicalised, his parents moved him away from Romford to a village in Lincolnshire. Adebolajo then went to university in Greenwich, living in Eltham while he was a student. A former friend told the London’s Evening Standard that he was a Christian.
Government sources confirmed that the names of both suspects were on a list maintained by the security services, but stressed it was unclear what level of surveillance they were under.
Adebolajo and his unnamed accomplice are believed to have run down the off-duty British soldier with a Vauxhall Tigra as he walked back to the Woolwich Barracks at 2.20 PM Wednesday, May 22, 2013, crushing his body against a road sign.
Witnesses said the terror suspects then ‘hacked and chopped’ at his body like ‘crazed animals’, before dragging his corpse into the middle of the road leaving a trail of blood.
As they apparently tried to decapitate him they were chanting ‘Allah Akbar!’ – an Islamic phrase meaning ‘God is great’ – and yelling ‘this is what God would have wanted’.
A blood-soaked Adebolajo, who was still holding a number of weapons in his red-stained hands, then ranted on camera in a clear London accent saying: ‘You people will never be safe’ before telling a passer-by they had not fled because they were waiting to ‘shoot the police’.
Within 20 minutes armed officers arrived and the fundamentalists charged at them wielding firearms, knives and a machete.
Police opened fire, shooting six bullets, leaving one seriously injured. The pair remain under armed guard in two separate London hospitals.
The afternoon attack occurred in the southeast London neighborhood of Woolwich, just a few blocks from the Royal Artillery Barracks.
In Paris, French President Francois Hollande, speaking at a press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron, said the slain man was a British soldier. Cameron didn’t immediately confirm that fact but the Britain’s Ministry of Defense said it was urgently investigating if a U.K. soldier was involved.
Cameron said there were “strong indications” it was a terrorist incident.
“We have suffered these attacks before, we have always beaten them back,” Cameron said. “We will not be cowed, we will never buckle.”
There was no immediate way for the Associated Press to verify who the cameraman was.
The footage — obtained by ITV news — showed a man in a dark jacket and knit cap walking toward a camera, clutching a meat cleaver and a knife in what appear to be bloodied hands. With a British accent, he apologized in English for the women passers-by who “have had to witness this” attack, saying that “in our land our women have to see the same.”
He gave no indication what that land was.
“We must fight them as they fight us,” the man told the camera as people milled around behind him. The camera then panned away to show a body behind the man.
The Associated Press examined the footage to verify its authenticity. The AP cross-referenced images from the scene, aerial shots, the location of a car behind the alleged attacker and appearance of a body and car in the background of the image.
The British Cabinet’s emergency committee immediately called a meeting and the prime minister’s office said security was stepped up at barracks across London. Cameron cut short his Paris trip to return to London and his office said he would chair another emergency committee meeting Thursday.
The barracks — which house a number of the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery and independent companies of the Grenadier and Coldstream Guards — were the site of shooting events during the 2012 London Olympics.
Fred Oyat, a 44-year-old who lives in a high-rise near where the attack occurred, said he heard four gun shots and then went straight to the window.
“I saw one man lying there bleeding, another lying on the pavement being disarmed. A policeman was pointing a gun at him. A third man was lying further up the street … he was bleeding profusely,” Oyat said. “There were four knives on the ground — big kitchen knives. The knives were very bloody.”
David Dixon, head teacher of a nearby primary school, saw a body lying in the road outside and said police told him there was a serious incident. He told the BBC he then made sure students were inside and put the school into a lockdown mode. He said he then heard shots fired.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission, which is called in when officers are involved in shootings, confirmed that it is investigating the attack.
Coverage from U.K. Daily Mail contributed to this story.