LONDON — U.K. Home Secretary Theresa May said the government is reviewing its powers to counter extremist groups in the wake of an attack that left a 25-year-old soldier dead in the middle of a busy road in London.
The new task force on terrorism will consider whether it needs wider authority to ban such organizations and prevent the messages of extremist preachers from reaching the public, May said on the BBC’s “Andrew Marr Show” Sunday. The government will also review whether British intelligence services missed clues leading up to the May 22 attack on Lee Rigby.
“We need to look at whether we need banning orders” for organizations that don’t meet the current criteria, May said. “When things like this happen, we do need to look at whether things need to be learned.” She cited Anjem Choudary, former leader of the banned Islamist organization Al Muhajiroun, as someone whose public comments should be scrutinized.
The BBC and other U.K. media have identified the suspects in the attack as Michael Adebolajo, 28, and Michael Adebowale, 22.
Meanwhile Sunday, the British Foreign Office said Adebolajo was detained by Kenyan police after being arrested by Kenyan authorities in 2010 on suspicion of attempting to cross its border with Somalia to join an Islamist group there.
British officials acknowledged providing consular assistance to the Kenyan government at the time of the arrest. The Kenyan government had denied on Saturday that Adebolajo, born in Britain to Nigerian parents, had ever visited the east African country until Britain's Sunday Times newspaper published a front page picture which it said showed Adebolajo in a Kenyan court with a group of people accused of seeking training with al-Qaida-linked militant group al-Shabaab in Somalia.
Later Sunday, the Associated Press reported Kenya's anti-terrorism police unit head Boniface Mwaniki told the news service that Adebolajo had been arrested under a different name. Mwaniki rejected allegations that Adebolajo was tortured while in custody — an event which a friend of Adelolajo's told the BBC led to his radicalization — but said the unit would further investigate.
Mwaniki said dozens of foreign youth are arrested every year attempting to cross the Kenyan border to join al-Shabab, which claims to be fighting a jihad or holy war against the Somali government and African Union forces.
The two suspected attackers remain hospitalized in stable condition after being shot during their arrest, giving police extra time to probe Rigby’s death. While police usually have 36 hours to file charges or seek an extension from a judge, the countdown doesn’t start until the suspects appear in a police station for questioning. Six others have been arrested in the case, three of whom were released.
A similar attack was carried out in Paris yesterday when a 23-year-old French soldier was assaulted with a blade while patrolling near some shops at the Metro station in La Defense, a business district on the western edge of the French capital.
Rigby was stabbed with knives and cleavers in the neighborhood of Woolwich, across the street from an army barracks. The probe comes as further questions are raised about security and Islamic extremism in a city that suffered its second fatal terrorist attack in eight years.
“Now that another three have been arrested, it looks like it’s wider than just a couple of lone wolves,” Alan Johnson, a Labour Party lawmaker and former home secretary, said on the “Andrew Marr Show” after the latest arrests in the case late yesterday.
The U.K. will review “what’s being beamed into people’s homes,” May said. “There is no doubt that people are able to watch things through the Internet that can lead to radicalization.”
The Independent newspaper reported that Adebolajo was known to belong to Al Muhajiroun, which favors sharia law and publicly celebrated the Sept. 11 attacks in the U.S. He went by the name of Mujahid — a Muslim engaged in holy war — until two years ago, Choudary was cited as saying by the newspaper.
May said Choudary “has disgusting views,” and that “we need to see how those views are presented” to the public.
The day after Rigby’s killing, police arrested two women, 29 and 31, and a 29-year-old man. The women were released without charge and the man is free on bail, London’s Metropolitan Police Service said in e-mailed statements.
Two men, 24 and 28, were arrested late yesterday at a home in southeast London and a third, a 21-year-old, was apprehended on the street at Charlton Lane.
Around 500 police officers and other investigators, including members of counterterrorism units from forces around the country, are working on the case, May said.
Rigby, father of a 2-year-old son, was a drummer in the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. A fan of the Manchester United soccer team, he served as a machine gunner in Cyprus and then in 2009 as a member of a fire support group in Helmand province, Afghanistan.
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