Update: In November 2014 Michael Adebolajo ( 29) was given a ‘whole- life tariff” and will therefor never be released. Michael Adebowale (22) was sentenced to life and will serve at least 45 years. Neither man was charged with terrorism.
Monday, 27 May 2013
The murder of a soldier – allegedly butchered with a meat cleaver and knives – by two black men on a busy London street in broad daylight has shocked and dismayed Britons. The mass circulation Mirror newspaper described a scene of carnage, a decapitated victim, a corpse with the head beside it. On television ITV news proclaimed Wednesday, May 21, as “the day Baghdad-style violence came to South London”. Security experts heralded a new era of terrorism in which every Muslim kitchen is now a potential arsenal.
By most accounts the attackers – British men of Nigerian extraction – Michael Adebolajo (28) and Michael Adebowale (22) slammed their car into Lee Rigby (25) knocking him to the pavement close to an army barracks in Woolwich, south- east London. They “beheaded” the injured young man hacking at him “like a piece of meat”. Instead of making their escape they hung-around encouraging passers-by to film them on mobile phones. According to the BBC one of the attackers shouted “Allahu Akbar”. Some fifteen to twenty minutes later they were shot and wounded as they ran towards armed police officers who had arrived on the scene.
The notion of a Baghdad style execution derived further traction from a foiled 2007 plot to kidnap and behead a soldier in Birmingham after forcing him to demand the withdrawal of troops from Iraq. The sequence was to be filmed for maximum publicity. None of this happened but Pervaiz Khan, a father of three from Alum Rock in Birmingham, admitted his guilt and was sentenced to an effective 14 years in prison.
The image etched into the British psyche is of Adebolajo’s vividly bloodstained hands and weapons (shown in footage obtained by ITV) as he delivers his message. “The only reason we have killed this man today is because Muslims are dying daily by British soldiers. And this British soldier is one. It is an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. By Allah, we swear by the almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you until you leave us alone…
“I apologise that women had to witness this today but in our lands women have to see the same. You people will never be safe. Remove your governments, they don’t care about you…Tell them to bring our troops back so can all live in peace.”
This revives in the clearest possible fashion the argument that terrorism in the UK might be “blowback” –the unintended consequences of foreign policy. It seems sensible, at the least, to consider the possibility. Former Prime Minister Tony Blair was however at pains to deny any link between the UK’s role in the 2003 Iraq invasion and the 2005 London bombings. He preferred to see the event in terms of a clash of civilisations, an onslaught on “our values” and “our way of life”.
Current Prime Minister David Cameron was quick to recognise the Woolwich murder as an act of terror. But like his predecessor he regards “blowback” as a “knee-jerk reaction.” The killing was “solely and purely” the responsibility of the murderers, extremists who “were trying to divide us”. His view was echoed by his Liberal Democrat coalition partner and deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and by Ed Milliband, the opposition Labour Party leader.
Mayor of London, Boris Johnson said, “It is completely wrong to blame this killing on the religion of Islam, but it is also equally wrong to try to draw any link between this murder and British foreign policy or the actions of British forces who are risking their lives abroad for the sake of freedom.”
Religious leaders and former Islamists supported the establishment consensus. At an interfaith forum in Leicester, Britain’s multicultural capital, the clergy announced they were working together to defeat the scourge of religious extremism. The ex-Islamists confirmed the ease with which young Muslims could be radicalised and become a “home-grown” threat. There’s money for jam.
The Woolwich murder revives the dread that the London 7/7 bombings once inspired and gives a stream of risible foiled plots a semblance of credibility. It sustains the myth of a war on terror justifying aggression abroad and repression at home and scares austerity into second place, for a while at least. (The Boston Marathon bombings have similarly replenished the irrational fear sown by 9/11 even though the official story of both events has fallen apart.) But Michael Adebolajo’s justification for the attack and the willingness of the “terrorists” to die to draw attention to their cause is uncomfortable and inconvenient.
Glen Greenwald, writing in the Guardian, says that terrorism is a culturally, emotionally and politically loaded label used to vindicate just about anything western governments wish to inflict on others. Despite the barbaric and horrendous nature of the act it is important to ask whether an attack on a soldier amounted to terrorism. “How can one create a definition of “terrorism” that includes Wednesday’s London attack on this British soldier without including many acts of violence undertaken by the US, the UK and its allies and partners? Can that be done?”
The short answer is no – not consistently at any rate.
For Dan Hodges, a Labour Party insider and admirer of Tony Blair, the attack was literally senseless. He notes with fetching innocence in his Telegraph blog that the terrorist on TV was black and did not fit the Asian or Middle Eastern stereotype. “And then as he was speaking, I noticed a lady in a blue dress, and pulling a trolley, just casually walking past the man with meat cleaver and the blood soaked hands. It was like she was just out doing a bit of shopping. And none of it made any sense. None of it.”
The usual oddities have been noticed by a more wary public – the lack of blood in some pictures and the shifting of the crime scene in others. No doubt much of this can be explained by the fact that the ITV footage has been edited. What is increasingly clear though is that the chorus of reports of beheading, decapitation and butchery should be treated with caution.
Scotland Yard says the cause of Lee Rigby’s death was not confirmed by a post-mortem examination and an inquest will be opened. It tallies with a coherent account given by Ingrid Loyau-Kennet who got off a bus to assist the dying soldier.
“I went over to the body where there was a lady sitting there and she said he was dead. She had comforted him by putting something under his back and a jacket over his head. I took his pulse and there was none. I couldn’t see the man’s face but I could see no evidence that suggested someone had tried to cut off his head. I could see nothing on him to suggest that he was a soldier.”
Loyau–Kennet then spoke to Michael Adebelajo, who was holding a meat cleaver in one hand and a revolver in the other, for more than five minutes. He explained he had killed the soldier because of what British troops were doing in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was going to attack the police when they arrived.
“There was blood on the pavement by the car where the man on the ground had been hit by it. At first there was no blood by the body but as I talked to the man it began to flow which worried me because blood needs a beating heart to flow. But I didn’t want to annoy the man by going back to the body.
She also spoke to the second man. Unlike Adebelajo, he did not want to confront the police. “At that point, there were so many people around that I didn’t want him to get scared or agitated. I kept talking to him to keep him occupied.”
Quite predictably a day after the attack it emerged that both Adebelajo and Adebowale had been known to the domestic security service, MI5, and the police for eight years. It was claimed they were regarded as peripheral figures and were therefore not subjected to a full-scale investigation. There is every reason to regard this as disinformation.
Abu Nusaybah (31) told the BBC Newsnight programme on Friday night (May 24) that the security agency MI5 had six months ago asked his friend Michael Adebolajo if he wanted to work for them. Nusaybah said that Adebelajo had rejected the offer but continued to be harassed by MI5. Abu Nusaybah was arrested at the BBC after the interview.
As is now customary a parliamentary select committee will investigate what the service knew of the Woolwich terror suspects and whether any intelligence was missed that might have prevented the tragedy. But as with the 7/7 London bombings a genuine public inquiry will stay off-limits. Whether Adebelajo was the patsy who turned on his handlers will remain a mystery.