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Woolwich Murder Suspect May Have Ties To Islamist Groups


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block. The killing last week of a British soldier on a London street in broad daylight has raised questions for the police, the government and the British people at large. In a few minutes, we'll talk about reaction to the murder, including some anti-Muslim attacks. First, some of the latest developments.

SIEGEL: Today, one of the two suspects was released from the hospital. Police say they're now holding him at one of their stations and questioning him on suspicion of murder. He and his alleged accomplice were shot by police soon after last Wednesday's killing. As NPR's Philip Reeves reports, one of the unresolved questions about the crime leads back to British intelligence.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: One of the two suspects in this killing is a 28-year-old man called Michael Adebelajo. Today, his family issued a statement. They said they wished to share their horror at the senseless killing of the British soldier, Lee Rigby. They said they felt profound shame and distress. Right after the killing, a passerby used a cell phone to film a blood spattered Adebelajo making a speech, trying to justify the atrocity.

Adebelajo, who is a convert to Islam, portrayed the crime as vengeance for the deaths of Muslims overseas at the hands of the British military. It seems his family doesn't see the world this way at all. Religion or politics simply cannot justify this kind of violence, said their statement. Similar sentiments have been expressed by leaders of Britain's Muslims over the last six days.

That hasn't prevented a sharp rise in reported hate crimes against Muslims, including an apparent attempt to firebomb a mosque. Nor did it deter hundreds from the far right anti-Muslim fringe group, The English Defense League, from protesting in London. The British are now asking themselves a question. Could this atrocity and all the pain and prejudice that it's unleashed have been prevented?

In the last few days, it's emerged that in 2010, Adebelajo, who's British, was arrested in Kenya, in east Africa. Police there thought he was trying to hook up with an Islamist militant group in Somalia. He was handed to British officials and deported back to the U.K. He claimed, after his return from Kenya, British security services tried to recruit him, but he refused.

Whatever the truth, there's little doubt Adebelajo was known to British intelligence well before the killing. Britain's parliamentary committee on intelligence and security will be looking into the role of the security agencies in this. But the committee's chairman, former foreign secretary Malcolm Rifkind, says the agencies are not on trial.

He told the BBC they've had a highly impressive record since the London bombings of 2005.

MALCOLM RIFKIND: Every year since 2005, there have been at least one, sometimes two or even more, terrorist plots which were disrupted and prevented from killing British citizens.

REEVES: The British are exploring other ways of preventing more attacks on their soil by Islamist extremists.

THERESA MAY: One of the issues we need to look at is whether we've got the right processes, the right rules in place in relation to what is being beamed into people's homes.

REEVES: That's Home Secretary Theresa May. The measures she's said to mulling include lowering the threshold for banning extremist Islamist organizations and denying them a voice on the airwaves or the Internet. Her critics doubt this will work. Shami Chakrabarti, director of the civil liberties organization Liberty, believes publically challenging extremism is more effective than censoring it.

SHAMI CHAKRABARTI: The point about speech is that you criminalize speech when it crosses the line into inciting violence and murder. When it's just bad taste and extremist views, I think the future is about taking it on in heated debate.

REEVES: Britain's government's contemplating reviving plans for legislation allowing police an intelligence agencies greater access to emails and other electronic communications. This is highly controversial. The British value their privacy. Their government won't find it easy striking a balance between making them safer and preserving their freedoms. Philip Reeves, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.
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