Suspect heard preaching of former London imam (Omar Bakri) who today provokes outrage by defiantly stating: ‘He was very courageous… Under Islam, this can be justified’
One of the suspected killers who attempted to behead and disembowel a young soldier in the horrific Woolwich attack had listened to the preachings of a radical Muslim cleric banned from Britain over extremist activities, including alleged links to al-Qa’ida, The Independent has learnt.
The cleric Omar Bakri Mohammed has been secretly filmed stating that decapitation of the enemies of Islam was permitted. Today, in comments met with outrage, he told The Independent that he could understand the feeling of rage that had motivated the attackers and that what they had done could be justified under certain interpretations of Islam.
Michael Adebolajo, a British-Muslim convert of Nigerian origin who gave a video interview with a meat cleaver in his bloodied hands while the body of 25-year-old Drummer Lee Rigby lay on the street behind him, declared that he was fighting for “Almighty Allah”.
Mr Bakri Muhammed, who now lives in Lebanon, told The Independent: “I saw the film and we could see that he [the suspect] was being very courageous.
“Under Islam this can be justified, he was not targeting civilians, he was taking on a military man in an operation. To people around here [in the Middle East] he is a hero for what he has done.”
Mr Bakri Muhammed said of the suspect: “I knew him as Michael when he came to the meetings and then he converted and he became known as Abdullah; I hear he then started calling himself Mujahid. He asked questions about religion, he was curious. He had first started coming when there was a lot of anger about the Iraq war and the war on terror. Whether I influenced him or not, I do not know. But he was a quiet boy, so something must have happened.”
In other developments today, two new arrests were made: a man and a woman on suspicion of conspiracy to murder, following raids at six addresses in London and Lincoln.
It also emerged that the two suspected killers of Drummer Rigby were already known to MI5 and, almost certainly, to counter-terrorism officers in the police. One of the men was stopped from travelling to Somalia to join the Islamist militia Al-Shabaab last year.
Security officials insisted that there had been no evidence that either of the two men were planning an imminent attack. Nor was there any evidence, they say, that they were discussing beheading. They point out that there were plenty of references to it in Islamist websites.
In 2007, following the conviction of a group British Pakistanis who had plotted to kidnap and behead a British soldier, a secret recording emerged of Mr Bakri Muhammed saying: “When you meet [Westerners], slice their own necks. And when you make the blood spill all over, and the enemy becomes so tired, now start to take from them prisoners. Then free them or exchange them until the war is finished.
“Verily they remind the sunnah of removing the head of the enemy. They remind the sunnah of slaughtering the enemy. They remind the sunnah of how to strike the neck of the enemy. They removed the head of the enemy. Use the sword and remove the head of the enemy.”
In another message, Mr Bakri Muhammed had said he hoped that “British Muslims who are in the Army over there” (Afghanistan) can be captured.
Mr Bakri Muhammed, who is Syrian-born, and has named one of his sons after Osama bin Laden, stated that he and his followers were not involved in violence while residing in the UK due to what had become known as the “covenant of security” under which Islamist organisations were allowed to carry out their activities, but desisted from taking armed action in the country which had given them refuge.
“But in this case obviously the covenant of security did not apply,” he said.
“Beheading is how criminals were executed under the laws; but that must happen with a Sharia court and decision by judges with criminals. On this occasion he was taking military action, not a legal one.”
Mr Bakri Muhammed had set up the organization Hizb ut-Tahrir in the UK, where he had claimed asylum in 1986, but split with them after doctrinal disagreements and set up the Al-Muhajiroun group which attracted hundreds of followers including Adebolajo. That was also wound up but at least a dozen of its members are thought to have become or affiliated to suicide bombers.
Mr Bakri Muhammed left London soon after the 2005 bombings because, he said, of constant harassment by the authorities. When Israel carried out attacks on Lebanon during its war with Hizbullah a year later he attempted to join civilians being evacuated from Lebanon by the British military, but was refused. He protested at the time: “What concerns me is my safety. I’d be happy with a month’s visa but this morning they told me I couldn’t because I’m not a British citizen any more.”
He was subsequently informed by the UK government that he would not be allowed to return here. Since then Mr Bakri Muhammed had repeatedly warned that the foreign policy being pursued by the UK would lead to retaliation by Muslims in the West and states would be powerless to prevent this.
A 29-year-old woman at a home in south London, and a man of the same age, were arrested in arrested at an undisclosed location.
The two men shot by police remain in hospital with non-fatal injuries but it is understood officers are yet to interview the pair. It emerged that the shooting was captured by a council camera. Two officers fired their guns and a third fired a taser weapon, the Independent Police Complaints Commission said.