What we know about the brutal Woolwich attack

There's plenty we don't know about yesterday's attack and the circumstances surrounding it. Here's what we do know

Ghaffar Hussain
On 23 May 2013 10:35

A brutal and sickening cleaver attack on an off-duty British soldier yesterday has induced shock and revolt in people around world. The attack took place in broad light on the streets of Woolwich, a few hundred yards from a school.

According to reports, the soldier was ran over by a car and then dragged into the middle of the road in order to be hacked to death by a couple of cleaver-wielding madmen. One of the culprits, brandishing a bloodied knife, then proceeded to denounce the presence of British troops in Muslim-majority countries and claimed his actions were revenge for Muslims being killed around the world. Or in other words, he began justifying his sick actions through the al-Qaeda narrative. The deluded rant, which was caught on video by an onlooker, has since appeared on the ITV news and is being widely circulated.

The police soon arrived on the scene and shot both of the attackers. They are now in police custody and the attack is being investigated by the Metropolitan police. The incident is being treated as a terrorist attack.

Background details about the attackers have yet to emerge. According to a twitter handle @AbuNusaybahUK, the key culprit is a British born citizen of African extraction called Michael Adeboloja. Adeboloja is believed to have converted to Islam in 2003 and avoided going to mosques because he believed they were out to silence critics of the government. This would suggest he has held extremists views for a number of years.

The attack, whilst shocking, does not appear to be very sophisticated in terms of planning and execution. It does bear the hallmark of a low tech lone-wolf jihadist attack, in that the individuals concerned are not likely to have been directed by external elements. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has been encouraging such lone wolf attacks for a number of years since such plots are much more difficult to thwart and detect in the planning stages.

Roshnara Choudary, the self-radicalised female student who stabbed Stephen Timms MP with a kitchen knife, was perhaps the first successful example. She adopted the al-Qaeda worldview after accessing Anwar al Awlaki lectures on You Tube and her attack was not believed to have had any external input.

British soldiers have been the planned targets for British jihadists for a while. As far back as 2006 the West Midlands police thwarted a major plot in Birmingham to kidnap and behead a British Muslim solider who had served in Afghanistan. More recently, a plot in Luton to attack a military site was thwarted whilst it was still in the planning stages.

The English Defence League (EDL) has been quick to capitalise on the events and was reported to have organised a protest on Woolwich High Street last night. At a rally in East London in 2011, the EDL did promise to retaliate against Muslims if there were any more jihadist terrorist attacks in the UK. Attacks on two mosques, in Essex and Kent, have since been reported.

Although the British response to such attacks in normally admirable, fears of retaliatory attacks are still palpable today. Let's hope common sense prevails and more people are not sucked in the cycle of mindless violence based on hate narratives that prey on the vulnerable.

Ghaffar Hussain is a counter terrorism expert and Contributing Editor to The Commentator. Follow him on Twitter @GhaffarH

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