The brutal murder of a soldier by two terrorists on a busy London street numbed and shocked Britons on Thursday as a senior former minister likened it to the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, admitting it was hard to prevent them.
Police sources said the two killers of the off-duty soldier, in the first terrorist attack on Britain since the 7/7 suicide bombings, were of Nigerian descent. One was named as Michael Adebolajo, who went by the name of Mujahid.
Both were on the radar of the British intelligence agency MI5 and one had reportedly been intercepted trying to catch a flight to Somalia. Carrying a knife, meat cleavers and a gun, they rammed their car into the one being driven by the soldier near his army barracks and then hacked him to death.
As Prime Minister David Cameron visited the crime scene in the southeast London neighbourhood of Woolwich, there were fears of further such Mumbai-style street attacks – either led by a terror mastermind or carried out by individual radicals.
“Security services had concerns about this type of attack after Mumbai – it’s very difficult to guard against,” said former security minister Lord West. British secret services had feared exactly such types of attacks during the London Olympics last year, specifically warning against knife attacks on soldiers travelling in underground trains.
Adebolajo, carrying a large knife and meat cleaver in his blood-soaked hands, was filmed just after the killing on Wednesday, warning of more street violence “when we start busting our guns.” He told a passerby who confronted him that there would be “a war in London,” Cameron said.
Police raided homes and detained several people associated with the attackers, trying to establish if the two men were part of a Mumbai-style terrorist conspiracy or were ‘lone wolves.’
Both scenarios are worrying, particularly if they lead to copycat attacks, said former chairperson of the Joint Intelligence Committee Lady Pauline Neville Jones.