GLOBALPOST LIVE BLOG: WOOLWICH ATTACK SPARKS TENSIONS
UPDATE: 5/23/13 5:00 PM ET
On a positive note
Signing off on a positive note...
The military charity Help for Heroes, which the victim Drummer Lee Rigby was wearing a t-shirt of, released a statement:
"Since the sad news emerged that a serving soldier had been murdered in Woolwich, Help for Heroes has been overwhelmed with people spontaneously showing their support for the armed forces."
"Help for Heroes was born of a simple desire to assist the wounded and that remains unchanged. All funds we receive will be used to provide direct, practical support to those affected by their service to our country. We ask all our volunteers, fundraisers and donors to remember the victim's family, colleagues and friends who are grieving."
UPDATE: 5/23/13 4:55 PM ET
London angry as details about knife attackers emerge
GlobalPost's Corinne Purtill reported from London:
LONDON, UK — The attack took place in Woolwich, a multiethnic, working-class neighborhood in southeast London. News reports recounted heroic instances of people confronting the attackers as they stood waiting for police to arrive.
John Wilson Street, the busy thoroughfare where stunned onlookers witnessed the murder, was silent and empty Thursday morning. Police cordoned off an area of several hundred yards surrounding the site where a man confirmed to be an active-duty British soldier died Wednesday afternoon.
Locals in Muslim headscarves and Sikh turbans walked past crowds of onlookers, police and international media gathered near the police tape strung across Wellington Street.
People approached the barricade with bouquets of flowers throughout the bone-chattering cold spring morning. Police officers in high-visibility jackets carried them in bunches to the crime scene.
Read the rest of her report.
UPDATE: 5/23/13 4:40 PM ET
What makes Woolwich an act of terrorism?
GlobalPost took a closer look at another knife attack in the UK earlier in the month, which didn't receive quite as much media or governmental attention.
What makes some attacks high-profile, while others fade into the background? When, and how, does the word "terrorism" get inserted into the story?
Merriam-Webster defines "terror" as "violent or destructive acts (as bombing) committed by groups in order to intimidate a population or government into granting their demands."
But defining something as an "act of terror" is tricky business — and something that some international media prefer to leave to government authorities.
In March 2007, the United Kingdom commissioned a report on how to define it.
Read more about defining "terrorism."
UPDATE: 5/23/13 3:40 PM ET
Extremism on both sides of the spectrum
London Mayor Boris Johnson said on Thursday (via the Guardian):
"It's pretty clear that there will be serious questions to be asked about Islamic extremism. In that context, I think it is very very important that we don't blame the religion of Islam, and we don't blame British foreign policy or the actions of British troops abroad, such as Drummer Lee Riby, who are risking their lives for the sake of freedom. The cause of the madness was only, and exclusively, in the minds of those killers."
"It is absolutely vitally important, if we are to succeed, that we make a sharp distinction between that and the religion of Islam, which is a religion of peace."
On the other end of the spectrum, members of the English Defence League took to the streets, clashing with police and allegedly attacking mosques in London.
EDL's leader Stephen Lennon said, "This issue is political Islam, political Islam that is spreading across this country."
Here are some tweets from the organization yesterday:
Read more about this right-wing British anti-Muslim group.
UPDATE: 5/23/13 2:36 PM ET
The BBC's Dominic Casciani tweeted what is believed to be a picture of one of the suspects, Michael Adebolajo:
As noted earlier, Anjem Choudary, the former leader of the group Al Muhajiroun in London, recognized Adebolajo.
"He wasn't a member (of Al Muhajiroun), he was not intellectually affiliated. I wouldn't say he was a member but he attended some of the activities, demonstrations, processions, talks," Choudary told Agence France-Presse.
"Even Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad, who's now in Lebanon, remembered him. So he was definitely there prior to 2005 and I think he disappeared off the scene probably 2009, 2010."
Islamist preacher Omar Bakri, who left the UK in 2005, was not allowed back into the country.
Asked by AFP whether he condemned Adebolajo's actions, Choudary replied, "I condemn the British government. I think the ones who radicalized him, the ones who put people like that in that position, are the British by their very brutal foreign policy... Now they have a reaction."
UPDATE: 5/23/13 2:10 PM ET
Obama condemns Woolwich attack, stands with UK
US President Barack Obama on Thursday condemned "in the strongest terms" the brutal attack in Woolwich. "The United States stands resolute with the United Kingdom, our ally and friend, against violent extremism and terror," he said in a statement from the White House.
"There can be absolutely no justification for such acts, and our thoughts and prayers are with the family of the victim, the police and security services responding to this horrific act and the communities they serve, and the British people."
The Metropolitan Police also tweeted:
UPDATE: 5/23/13 1:35 PM ET
Fear of 'lone wolf' attacks rises
The Met Police Assistant Commissioner for specialist crime and operations, Mark Rowley, told London's Police and Crime Committee (via the BBC):
My main message to Londoners is 'please remain calm.' London is at its best when we all come together and now is the time to do that.
The attack in Woolwich comes just a month after the bombing at the Boston Marathon which left three people dead and hundreds maimed and injured.
Like the Boston bombing, the attack in Woolwich also bears the hallmarks of a case of homegrown extremism, making it much harder to detect through security and intelligence, as analysts note.
"This is a departure from the established type of attacks that you see or the established plan that you see of terrorism causing mass murder," John O'Connor, a former head of the Scotland Yard police headquarters' 'Flying Squad' detective unit, told the BBC.
"The bottom line is that it could spring up anywhere and that's the concern. It's very difficult to keep a tab on where this is going and where the threat level is."
The two cases have highlighted the growing concern over "self-radicalized" lone wolves who act independent of any terrorist organizations or extremist groups.
One of the Woolwich suspects reportedly told a female bystander, "We want to start a war in London tonight."
One of the suspects was caught on amateur video saying, "The only reasons we killed this man is because Muslims are dying daily. This British soldier is an eye for an eye, a tooth for tooth."
Dzokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving suspect in the Boston bombing case who is of Chechen descent, reportedly told police that he and his brother Tamerlan carried out the bombing in retaliation for America's wars elsewhere, in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Daily Telegraph's security editor wrote, "The nature of the new threat is often such attacks can come out of nowhere, with no network or obvious plot for MI5 or the police to pick up on in advance."
He added, "They are self-starting fanatics who have radicalized themselves over the internet and while many may be inspired by Al Qaeda they do not need any command or control from the terror group."
Joe Glenton, a former soldier, wrote in The Guardian's comment section that while attacks like the one in Woolwich can never be justified, they should not be surprising.
Glenton, who served in Afghanistan for one tour but then refused to return on legal and moral grounds, writes:
It should by now be self-evident that by attacking Muslims overseas, you will occasionally spawn twisted and, as we saw yesterday, even murderous hatred at home. We need to recognise that, given the continued role our government has chosen to play in the US imperial project in the Middle East, we are lucky that these attacks are so few and far between.
UPDATE: 5/23/13 12:35 PM ET
Riggers was 'always smiling'
The UK's Ministry of Defense released a statement on Rigby's death. Here are some excerpts:
Drummer Lee Rigby or ‘Riggers’ to his friends was born in July 1987 in Crumpsall, Manchester. He joined the Army in 2006 and on successful completion of his infantry training course at Infantry Training Centre Catterick was selected to be a member of the Corps of Drums and posted to 2nd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers (also known as the ‘Second Fusiliers’ or ‘2 RRF’).
In April 2009, Drummer Rigby deployed on Operations for the first time to Helmand province, Afghanistan, where he served as a member of the Fire Support Group in Patrol Base Woqab. On returning to the UK he completed a second tour of public duties and then moved with the Battalion to Celle, Germany, to be held at a state of high readiness for contingency operations as part of the Small Scale Contingency Battle Group.
In 2011, Drummer Rigby took up a Recruiting post in London where he also assisted with duties at Regimental Headquarters in the Tower of London.
An extremely popular and witty soldier, Drummer Rigby was a larger than life personality within the Corps of Drums and was well known, liked and respected across the Second Fusiliers. He was a passionate and life-long Manchester United fan.
A loving father to his son Jack, aged 2 years, he will be sorely missed by all who knew him. The Regiment’s thoughts and prayers are with his family during this extremely difficult time. “Once a Fusilier, always a Fusilier.”
For more reactions from the Ministry of Defense, check their website.
UPDATE: 5/23/13 12:00 PM ET
Victim identified as security is tightened
The BBC identified the victim of Wednesday's brutal attack as Drummer Lee Rigby of 2nd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers.
Born in 1987 in Manchester, Rigby was known as "Riggers" to his friends.
The two suspects in Wednesday's attack were reportedly known to security services, according to a British government official who spoke anonymously to the Associated Press.
The men were apparently part of an early security services investigation for possible links to terrorism, the official said.
British media reported that police raided the homes of relatives of the suspects in London and near the town of Lincoln.
Security has been heightened at military barracks and installations in London. Police said sensitive areas would get extra patrols, including places of worship, places with crowds and transportation centers.
Queen Elizabeth II will go ahead with a long-planned visit to Woolwich.
The Daily Beast reported:
A Buckingham Palace spokesman told the Royalist this morning that there had “absolutely not” been any question of cancelling the “long-planned” trip to the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery at Woolwich Barracks next week.
GlobalPost senior correspondent Tristan McConnell weighed in from Nairobi on the situation:
So the latest seems to be that both men are British born and bred, though of Nigerian extraction. The one who's been named - Michael Adebolajo - converted to Islam 10 years ago in the UK so the links to Africa are a little tenuous to say the least. The strongest link is that at least one of the men might have tried to travel to Somalia to join Al Shabaab in the last year or so but he/they were prevented from doing so.
Clearly both Nigeria and Somalia have their problems with Islamic extremist outfits and both countries are waging armed war against jihadists but I feel it looks, at this early stage, that their motivation and radicalization was British-based, to do with British troops fighting abroad, hence attacking a British soldier.
UPDATE: 5/23/13 11:00 AM ET
One of the suspects of Wednesday's attack who appeared in a video with bloody hands clutching a meat cleaver has been identified.
The Guardian said the man was British-born Michael Olumide Adebolajo.
Adebolajo was born in Lambeth in 1984 and grew up as a practicing Christian.
The Guardian reported:
His family – who are of Nigerian origin — were practising Christians, attending the local church. He has two siblings; a sister and a brother. Both boys went to Marshalls Park school, in the Harolds Hill area of the town. At 16, Adebolajo moved to Havering sixth form college, and then at 18 attended Greenwich University, where he lived in student accommodation in 2004 and 2005.
Anjem Choudary, the former leader of the group Al Muhajiroun, was quoted by The Independent saying that he knew Adebolajo.
He attended our meetings and my lectures. I wouldn’t describe him as a member [of Al Muhajiroun]. There were lots of people who came to our activities who weren’t necessarily members. He was a pleasant, quiet guy. He converted to Islam in about 2003. He was just a completely normal guy.
The Guardian wrote that it is believed Adebolajo was radicalized 10 years ago, changing his name to Mujaahid, which means "one who engages in jihad."
UPDATE: 5/23/13 10:45 AM ET
The importance of labels
BBC political editor Nick Robinson apologized for using the term "of Muslim appearance" when describing the suspects on Wednesday.
BBC political editor Nick Robinson apologized for using the phrase "of Muslim appearance" when describing the suspected attackers on Wednesday, saying the language had come from police.
In a blog post penned Thursday, Robinson said:
With minutes to go before the BBC News at Six I was told by a senior Whitehall source that the incident was being treated as a suspected terrorist incident and being taken very seriously indeed. This information changed the news from a crime story to something of more significance. The police had, I was told, described the attackers as being "of Muslim appearance" and shouting "Allahu Akbar". On air I directly quoted a senior Whitehall source saying that the police had used that description.
That phrase "of Muslim appearance" clearly offended some who demanded to know what it could possibly mean. Others were concerned that it was a racist generalisation.
Robinson apologized for using the phrase, pointing to the heightened tensions in the aftermath of the attack, which included protests by the right-wing group, the English Defence League, and Muslim groups in Britain scrambling to distance themselves from the horrific attack.
As this Vine from our senior correspondent Corinne Purtill in Woolwich shows, tensions are high:
Meanwhile, the Guardian's Glenn Greenwald questioned whether the attack should continue to be called an incidence of terrorism.
That this was a barbaric and horrendous act goes without saying, but given the legal, military, cultural and political significance of the term "terrorism", it is vital to ask: is that term really applicable to this act of violence? To begin with, in order for an act of violence to be "terrorism", many argue that it must deliberately target civilians.
Greenwald asks, "Can it really be the case that when western nations continuously kill Muslim civilians, that's not 'terrorism,' but when Muslims kill western soldiers, that is terrorism?"
Read the full piece at the Guardian.
UPDATE: 5/23/13 10:15 AM ET
'Most Muslims are all right. They're cool people, like you and me.'
Local resident Stefan Kemp, 24, left a bouquet of flowers at the police line in honor of the victim.
"He was a member of the military and we should have the utmost respect for what they do," he said.
Kemp said his partner witnessed the attack unfold yesterday on John Wilson Street. He saw the car on the sidewalk and two men standing over the victim.
"He thought it was a car accident. As he walked up, he could see these people were attacking him."
The attack left Kemp feeling frightened in his neighborhood.
"I feel afraid for our safety. The scary thing is, it could have been anyone. My job takes me out in the community, and I'm afraid to go out," he said.
Woolwich was crawling with reporters from around the world: Turkey, India, Hong Kong, Canada, Austria.
Not everyone thought this was a good idea.
"I think it's a bit over the top, to be honest. This type of media attention stirs up fear. It's a bit of a circus, if you ask me," said Rob Thornborrow, a Royal Mail postal carrier whose normal route was disrupted by the police cordon.
He noted how the previous night's rally of the English Defence League garnered far more media attention than any of Woolwich's persistent social problems.
"Woolwich is a rough town. There's gang violence that goes on regularly and it's swept under the rug."
He was concerned that insensitive coverage of the incident could exacerbate tensions and lead to further violence.
"Most Muslims are all right. They're cool people, like you and me. But each side's tarring everyone with the same brush. It's all sort of "us" and "them." He said. "This media coverage doesn't help the situation, to be honest."
Farooq Murad, the secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said he wanted to express his "outrage and horror" at the incident.
Murad said he was "heartened by messages of understanding and reconciliation by faith leaders and the Prime Minister."
He also called on all British Muslims to "reach out to fellow Britons and testify the true reality of our faith."
UPDATE: 5/23/13 9:50 AM ET
Killing discussed as a terror attack
In case you missed it, Prime Minister David Cameron yesterday said that the knife attack that killed a British soldier was likely an act of terror. The incident is currently being investigated as terrorism by British authorities. Read the full piece on Cameron's remarks and the UK's initial response here.
A London woman who confronted one of the suspects in the killing — he held two knives in a bloodied hand as he spoke — told media that the man had said he and a second suspect wanted "to start a war in London tonight."
UPDATE: 5/23/13 9:15 AM ET
London mayor greeted by protesters
London Mayor Boris Johnson visited the crime scene shortly before noon Thursday.
As he and his advisers walked back toward the police line separating the public from the scene, about six or seven men in the crowd — a group of three youths, plus some individuals — began to shout at Johnson. Most of the men shouting were white. At least one was black.
The main chant heard through the commotion was "send him home" — a reference, one of the men said later, to radical cleric Abu Qatada, who has been fighting UK attempts to deport him for several years.
Police closed in around a surprised-looking Johnson as he walked to nearby Woolwich Centre for a meeting with local leaders.
"What's this world coming to?" Said one of the protesters, a hoodie-clad young man who gave his name as Rusty Nayler, 21. "This Boris Johnson guy wants to come here today, and it took police 20 minutes" to arrive on the scene of the murder.
UPDATE: 5/23/13 9:00 AM ET
'You don't treat an animal like that, much less a human being'
On Thursday morning, the busy street where stunned onlookers witnessed yesterday's murder was silent. Police cordoned off an area of several hundred yards while the investigation is ongoing.
Throughout the morning, people approached with bouquets of flowers which police officers accepted and carried in bunches back to the scene.
One such well wisher was Gerard Meade, 58, who held a bouquet of roses with his wife and 13-year-old son.
His reasons for being there were twofold, he said. He was distressed to see the killers were men of his own race. More significantly, he wanted to express his sympathies to the murdered soldier's family. His nephew Donal Meade was killed while serving in Iraq in 2005, he said.
"It's something you never get over. It brings back everything to me."
He was appalled by the brutality of the attack.
"Horrific. Barbaric. You don't treat an animal like that, much less a human being."
UPDATE: 5/23/13 6:40 AM ET
Details emerge of men who murdered British soldier in London
The two men who killed a British Army soldier near military barracks in Woolwich Wednesday, are thought to be of Nigerian descent.
And the British newspaper The Independent reported that one of the two men involved in Wednesday's killing, in which the victim was reportedly beheaded, was known to an Islamist organization banned in Britain.
British Prime Minister David Cameron made a public address Thursday outside his residence at 10 Downing Street, saying the images seen by the public were "deeply shocking," however:
"This country will be absolutely resolute in its stand against violent extremism and terror. We will never give in to terror or terrorism in any of its forms.
He said that he had met with "Cobra" — a British government crisis response committee similar to the White House Situation Room — and that the police and security services were investigating the brazen daylight murder.
He added, according to the BBC:
"This was not just an attack on Britain and on the British way of life, it was also a betrayal of Islam and of the Muslim communities who give so much to our country. There is nothing in Islam that justifies this truly dreadful act."
Members of the far-right activist group the English Defence League clashed with police overnight in the area near the attack, and some mosques were attacked.
More than 100 supporters of the English Defence League, some in paramilitary dress, gathered at a train station in Woolwich near where the man was allegedly hacked to death, according to London's Daily Mail and Channel Four websites.
There were running battles in the streets, with activists in balaclavas throwing rocks and bottles at riot police.
More from GlobalPost: London machete attack likely terrorist incident, PM David Cameron says
Meanwhile, Nick Griffin, leader of the extreme right-wing British National Party (BNP) posted provocative tweets calling for a protest in Woolwich and claiming the crime is the result of "mass immigration."
Separately, the BBC ran a comprehensive list of formal reactions to the killing, including from the Muslim Council of Britain, London Mayor Boris Johnson and Quilliam, a think tank specialising in counter-extremism.
The Independent, meantime, cited Anjem Choudary, the former leader of the group Al Muhajiroun as saying that he knew the man seen on video with bloodied hands and holding a meat cleaver.
Choudary said the man was a British-born Nigerian who converted to Islam in 2003 but who had stopped attending meetings of Al Muhajiroun — originally formed by an extremist preacher, Omar Bakri Mohammed — two years ago.
He told the Independent:
"He attended our meetings and my lectures. I wouldn’t describe him as a member [of Al Muhajiroun]. There were lots of people who came to our activities who weren’t necessarily members. He was a pleasant, quiet guy. He converted 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."
One of the suspected killers, who addressed an onlooker who had a camera, said the pair had carried out the attack "because David Cameron, [the] British government sent troops in Arabic country."
The suspects are heard speaking in British accents in video shot at the scene.
One, speaking directly into the camera in a video shown on the ITV website, says:
"We swear by almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you. The only reason we have done this is because Muslims are dying every day. This British soldier is an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. I apologize that women have had to witness this today, but in our land our women have to see the same. You people will never be safe. Remove your government, they don't care about you."
Both attackers were shot by police at the scene of Wednesday's attack and remained under arrest in separate hospitals on Thursday.
The Guardian, meantime, wrote that one of the two suspects was known by the authorities for having expressed an interest in traveling to Somalia to support the Al Qaeda affiliate Al Shabaab.
More from GlobalPost: British mom filmed confronting killers of soldier in London explains brave act
The bloody video purportedly showing one of the attackers explaining his actions is viewable on ITV.