(LONDON) — British authorities are debating whether to raise the country’s threat level one day after a British soldier was hacked to death by suspects shouting jihadist slogans in southeast London.
Britain’s top leaders held an emergency meeting Thursday in the equivalent of the White House Situation Room, deciding whether they believe the assault could lead to more attacks.
Counterterrorism police searched a home in northeast England, according to police in Lincolnshire, and officers were seen meticulously searching a parking garage and a lawn in Woolwich, where the attack took place. They also continue to interview the two suspects, who are in the hospital under arrest after they were both shot by armed police. It’s unclear whether they are cooperating with authorities.
One of the alleged attackers was a British Christian who converted to Islam, according to Anjem Choudary, the former leader of the group Al Muhajiroun, a banned Islamist Organization.
Choudary told ABC News that the killer’s name is Michael Adebolajo, who converted to Islam in 2003 and changed his name to Mujahid, meaning one who wages jihad.
Choudary said Adebolajo was never a member of Al Muhajiroun, but knew him because he attended the group’s rallies from about 2005 to 2011.
After 2011, Choudary said, Adebolajo stopped attending rallies. Choudary said he has no idea what Adebolajo has been doing since, and he said that Adebolajo never suggested any antipathy to British soldiers or any willingness to commit violence.
“He was a very peaceful man,” Choudary told ABC News. “Never saw any kind of violence streak in him. Very quiet, timid man, in fact.”
After the attack, instead of fleeing the scene, Abedolajo and his alleged accomplice invited eyewitnesses to interview them on their camera phones. Abedolajo spoke to one eyewitness while holding two bloody knives. His hands were stained deep red and he used rhetoric similar to that used in martyrdom videos.
“We swear by almighty Allah, we will never stop fighting you until you leave us alone, your people will never be safe,” Abedolajo said calmly, according to ITV News, which first obtained the video. “Tell them to bring our troops back so we — so you — can all live in peace.”
The attack occurred a few hundred feet from an army barracks in Woolwich, home to the Princess of Wales’ regiment and the King’s Troop, a ceremonial unit. Authorities have increased security at the 10 army barracks across London, according to British officials.
British Prime Minister David Cameron praised the police response Thursday morning.
“This was not just an attack on Britain and the British way of life. It was also a betrayal of Islam,” Cameron told reporters after chairing the meeting of senior government officials. “There is nothing in Islam that justifies this truly barbaric act.”
Police and community leaders feared violent backlashes following the attack, especially in Woolwich, which has had a past history of racial tensions.
A few hundred members of the anti-immigrant and right-wing party the English Defense League poured into the area last night, wearing masks and throwing rocks at police. And police reported two separate attacks on Muslim centers in southern and eastern England.
Police in Essex, east of London, arrested a 43-year-old who was holding a knife outside of a Muslim prayer center Wednesday night. They charged him with attempted arson as well as suspicion of possession of an offensive weapon, Essex police told ABC News.
And in Gillingham, Kent, which is south of London, another man was arrested Wednesday night outside a mosque on suspicion of racially aggravated criminal damage, Kent police told ABC News.
British Muslim organizations were quick to condemn the attack.
“We must come together, isolate those who believe that extremism and violence are acceptable, and work to ensure that they meet the full force of the law,” Fiyaz Mughal, the director of Faith Matters, said in a statement. “We as the Muslim community will work against anyone who promotes such hatred.”
Still, at a moment when much of the country was upset by a crime clearly designed to shock, there were signs of impressive bravery.
After the attack, a mother of two Ingrid Loyau-Kennett approached one of the attackers and engaged him in conversation. Loyau-Kennet can be seen in a photograph calmly talking to the man. He was holding a bloody knife and she appeared unafraid.
“I just talked to him. He looked like a normal guy. He wasn’t high, he wasn’t on drugs. A normal guy pissed off with the fact [as he said], ‘Muslim women and children are dying in their countries by the hand of white men,'” she told ITV’s Daybreak. “He was very, very close to me. He was almost touching me …I asked him, what’s the point. [He said] ‘war in London.'”
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Mohammed Tawfeeq and Gul Tuysuz, CNN
Georgia McCafferty and Junko Ogura, CNN