LONDON: A man seen with bloody hands wielding a butcher knife after the killing of a British soldier on the streets of London was described as a convert to Islam who took part in demonstrations with a banned radical group, two Muslim hard-liners said Thursday.
Police raided houses in connection with the daylight slaying of the off-duty soldier, identified as Lee Rigby, of the 2nd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, who served in Afghanistan. In addition to the two suspects who were hospitalized after being shot by police, authorities said they had arrested a man and a woman, both 29, on suspicion of conspiracy to murder.
Police would not say whether it appeared Rigby had been targeted specifically because of his military service. Although he was not in uniform at the time he was killed, he was said by witnesses to be wearing a T-shirt for a British veterans’ charity.
Authorities have not identified either of the two wounded suspects. Officials in Britain usually wait to name suspects until charges have been filed.
Anjem Choudary, the former head of the radical group al-Muhajiroun, said the man depicted in startling video that emerged after Rigby’s death was named Michael Adebolajo, a Christian who converted to Islam around 2003 and took part in several London demonstrations.
The BBC broadcast video from 2007 showing Adebolajo standing near Choudary at a rally.
Omar Bakri Muhammad, who now lives in Lebanon but had been a radical Muslim preacher in London, also said he recognized the man seen on TV as Adebolajo and said he attended his London lectures in the early 2000s.
Bakri, speaking from Lebanon, said he remembers Adebolajo as a “shy person” who was keen to learn about Islam and asked interesting questions.
“He used to listen more than he spoke,” Bakri said. “I was very surprised to learn that he is the suspect in the attack.”
Mary Warder, who has lived in the Woolwich area for more than 30 years, said she had seen both of the suspects preaching on the streets. Shopkeepers, however, said they couldn’t remember seeing them.
The two men suspected of killing the 25-year-old Rigby had been part of previous investigations by security services, a British official said Thursday, as investigators searched several locations and tried to determine whether the men were part of a wider terrorist plot.