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London attack suspects once probed by security

9:58 AM, May 23, 2013   |    comments
LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 23: Forensice officers work close to a crime scene where a soldier from Wellington Barracks was killed yesterday, on May 23, 2013 in London, England. A British soldier was murdered by suspected Islamists near London's Woolwich Army Barracks yesterday in a savage knife attack. British Prime Minister David Cameron has said that the 'appalling' attack appeared to be terror related. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
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LONDON -- The two suspects videotaped butchering a soldier to death on a London street before spouting extremist slogans to bystanders were part of early security services investigations into possible terror links, according to a British government official.

The official, who spoke Thursday on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about the investigation, said he could not provide other details because the suspects may face trial, the Associated Press reported.

Investigations by Britain's domestic security service, MI5, can include undercover surveillance, phone tapping and communications intercepts.

Meanwhile, Scotland Yard confirmed that the victim was a soldier, but did not release his name. The government also lifted its temporary order for members of the military not to wear their uniform in public.

The assailants struck the soldier, apparently at random, with their car on Wednesday, then attacked him with knives and meat cleavers. They are under arrest. Both were hospitalized after being shot by police.

During the night, police raided two homes, one in Greenwich and one in Lincolnshire, in connection with their investigation into the brutal attack. Two women, believed to be sisters, were handcuffed and led away from a house in Greenwich, ITV News reports.

The Associated Press, quoting an unidentified British official, said both men had been part of an earlier security services probe.

The BBC, quoting unidentified sources, reported that one of the suspects is 28-year-old Michael Adebolajo, who comes from a devout Christian family but converted to Islam after leaving the University of Greenwich, in Eltham, in 2001. Adebolajo is a Briton of Nigerian descent. The BBC said he was described as "bright and witty" when he was at college.

One of the men, identified in the British media as Adebolajo, sought to justify his actions in chilling remarks to a bystander who recorded the attack near the Royal Artillery Barracks in South London on video.

"We swear by almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you," he said, clutching knives in his bloodied hands. "The only reasons we have done this is because Muslims are dying every day. This British soldier is an eye for an eye, a tooth for tooth. We apologize that women had to see this today but in our lands our women have to see the same. You people will never be safe. Remove your government. They don't care about you."

He gave no indication what that land was as he urged people to tell the government to "bring our troops back." British troops are deployed in Afghanistan and recently supported the French-led intervention in Mali.

Muslim religious groups and charities were quick to condemn the attack and urged police to calm tensions. The Muslim Council of Britain called it a "barbaric act that has no basis in Islam," adding that "no cause justifies this murder."

A radical, controversial cleric, Anjem Choudary, told The Independent, that Adebolajo took the name "Mujahid" after converting to Islam in 2003. He said Adebolajo, who came from a community settled by many Muslims from Somalia and Pakistan, often attended lectures and demonstrations by Islamist groups.

"He was a pleasant, quiet guy," Choudary said. "He reverted to Islam in about 2003. He was just a completely normal guy. He was interested in Islam, in memorizing the Koran. He disappeared about two years ago. I don't know what influences he has been under since then."

Choudary, an outspoken critic of British military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, insisted that his own teachings have never preached that attacks on British troops or security personnel in Britain were justified.

"My position is clear," Choudary told The Independent. "There is a covenant which says that in return for Muslims being allowed to live peacefully and practice their faith in Britain, then it is forbidden to attack the British authorities, soldiers, in the UK. When people go abroad then the inhabitants of those countries have a right to defend themselves. The biggest aggravating factor we have today is British foreign policy."

Prime Minister David Cameron, who chaired a meeting Thursday of the government's emergency response committee Cobra, said the images of the attack were "deeply shocking" but would not deter the British people from standing up to terrorism.

"One of the best ways of defeating terrorism is to go about our normal lives," he said. "That is what we shall do today."

The prime minister said confronting extremism is a "job for us all" and praised a 48-year-old Cub Scout leader, Ingrid Loyau-Kennett, who got off a bus to confront one of the suspects and tried to calm him.

In an interview with the the Daily Telegraph, Loyau-Kennett was asked if she was scared, and replied: "No -- better me than a child."

"I thought I had better start talking to him before he starts attacking somebody else. I thought these people usually have a message so I said 'What do you want?'" said Loyau-Kennett, who lives in Cornwall in southwest England.

It did not seem like he was about to attack her and "the policeman was the next target," she said.

Loyau-Kennett said she was not scared and that the armed men did not seem to be drunk or on drugs. She said she was trying to keep them occupied so they didn't get more agitated.

She reboarded her bus shortly before police arrived, watching as police shot the two suspects, the BBC reported.

Contributing: Associated Press

Kim Hjelmgaard and Doug Stanglin, USA TODAY

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