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Britain on high alert, braces for copycat attacks

world Updated: May 25, 2013 10:15 IST
Dipankar De Sarkar
Dipankar De Sarkar
Hindustan Times
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British Prime Minister David Cameron was warned of copycat attacks in the wake of the daylight slaying of a British soldier as the nation’s secret service on Friday came under the spotlight over allegations they could have prevented the assault.

Drummer Lee Rigby’s savage killing on a south London road on Wednesday, just metres outside his army barracks, could be replicated by other Islamist extremist groups, Cameron was warned by the head of the spy agency MI5 at a meeting of the emergency Cobra committee on Wednesday.

“The very big concern we have is that this could be easily copied,” a security source was quoted saying. “This is the sort of thing that can go from flash to bang in a very short time.” The two men rammed a car into the one being driven by Rigby and then hacked him to death with knives and meat cleavers before police shot them. Both are recovering in separate hospitals.

As police continued to raid addresses in London and elsewhere in Britain on Friday in a bid to find out more about Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, the nation’s intelligence agencies came under a cloud following claims that both men were known for their radical activities.

Adebolajo, who was filmed making a statement, was stopped by police trying to travel to Somalia to join the terror group al-Shabaab. He had his passport impounded and had become the subject of intelligence surveillance. More recently, he had been encouraging Muslim youths to join al Qaeda-affiliated groups fighting in Syria.

Richard Barrett, former head of counter-terrorism in the external spy agency MI6, defended the secret service, saying, “When does a radical person flip over to being a radical extremist? To find the red flags is enormously hard… It’s one thing to note their names, another to take invasive action and clearly the evidence didn’t stack up enough to cross the legal threshold.”

Britons continued to guard against reprisals by White supremacist groups, earning politicians’ praise. A petrol bomb thrown at a mosque in Milton Keynes on Thursday evening, as members sat inside for evening prayers, caused no significant damage and the fire was quickly put out.