U.K. Government Confirms Woolwich Attack an Act of Terror Against Serving Soldier

Expert says suspects likely wanted to attract attention, expecting to die.

People heckle the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, not pictured, as he leaves the scene of a terror attack in Woolwich, southeast London, Thursday, May 23, 2013. A member of armed forces was attacked and killed by two men on Wednesday. (Sang Tan/AP Photo)

People heckle London Mayor Boris Johnson as he leaves the scene of a terror attack Thursday in Woolwich.

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The British government confirmed Thursday that the man reportedly slaughtered by two men with knives and cleavers on a street in southeast London on Wednesday was an active duty soldier.

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Prime Minister David Cameron gave a statement outside his residence Thursday morning after convening the second meeting in the crisis response Cabinet Office Briefing Rooms, or "Cobra." He described the reported attack Tuesday afternoon by two men -- who shouted "Allah Akbar" (or "God is Great") at a camera phone at the scene of the assault -- as an act of extremism and terror, and stressed that it was unrelated to the Muslim community as a whole.

The identity of the victim has not yet been released at the request of his family. A post-mortem will take place Thursday.

"This was not just an attack on Britain and on our British way of life, it was also a betrayal of Islam and of the Muslim communities who are giving so much to our country," said Cameron outside 10 Downing Street. "We will defeat violent extremism by standing together, by backing our police and security services and above all by challenging the poisonous narrative of extremism on which this violence feeds."

 

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"One of the best ways of defeating terrorism is to go about our normal lives and that is what we shall all do," he said.

Cameron declined to comment on the details of the case, including the identity of the two attackers, although British papers have identified them as U.K. residents of Nigerian descent. British police visited houses in Essex and Lincolnshire where one of the pair, the man in the video with the cleaver, may have grown up and where his father may now be living.

Cameras documented one of the alleged attackers approaching bystanders at the scene of the assault. He was holding a knife and a meat cleaver and his hands appeared to be covered in blood. He apologized that women had to see the carnage but said "in our land, our women have to see the same."

"We swear by almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you," said the man in a British accent. "We must fight them as they fight us."

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He called for the removal of the British government, and then walked back up the street toward the victim lying listless on the ground.

He and an alleged accomplice were reportedly shot and wounded by special armed police officers who believed they were in danger. Regular police in Britain typically are not armed. Both suspects remain in hospital under guard.

Defence Minister Philip Hammond said he was "shocked by the brutality of this cold-blooded murder of a serviceman on the streets of London." The military is working with local police to investigate the incident.

The target of the attack, and reports that the suspects tried to behead him are consistent with home-grown Islamic extremism, says Robin Simcox, a terrorism analyst with the London-based Henry Jackson Society.

"The target, to me, actually isn't that surprising," he says. "It goes to show how deep the hatred of the ideology runs in some people."

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Simcox authored the study "Al Qaeda in the United States," released in late February, which documented the rising prevalence of extremists recruited and trained from within the United States. The study, endorsed by former NSA and CIA director Michael Hayden, followed a similar analysis he performed for the British government.

Terrorist groups like al-Qaida are encouraging young people attracted to the symbol of attacks like Sept. 11 to take a "do-it-yourself" approach at home, rather than attracting attention by traveling to countries like Pakistan.

Simcox told US News on Wednesday that the alleged attackers' bold declarations at the scene of the crime in broad daylight likely invited "what they would deem martyrdom."

"They wanted it to be high-profile, they wanted the publicity, they wanted to commit an act that would inspire others, and they probably expected to die," he says.