A gruesome cleaver attack on a British soldier left London reeling Thursday, as Britain grappled with questions over who was responsible and whether Islamist extremism was to blame.
The scene revealed through cell phone camera footage and witness accounts Wednesday was bloody, and for many hard to believe.
A meat cleaver-wielding man with bloody hands addressed a camera, his victim lying mutilated in the street behind him.
The slain soldier has been named as Lee Rigby, who held the rank of drummer, the Ministry of Defense said.
The crisis brought Prime Minister David Cameron rushing back Wednesday night from an official trip to Paris.
He condemned the “horrific attack” in a news conference Thursday, vowing that Britain would be “absolutely resolute” in the face of terrorism.
“We will never give in to terror or terrorism in any form,” he said.
Cameron said Britain’s security services would not rest until they brought all those responsible to justice.
It is understood that the two people suspected of carrying out the knife attack were known to Britain’s domestic security service. They had featured in previous investigations into other people, but were not themselves under surveillance.
Amid concern over a backlash against the Muslim community, Cameron insisted the slaying had nothing to do with Islam, despite the claims made by one of the suspected attackers.
He spoke after a crisis meeting of senior officials Thursday morning, as security was increased at army bases around London amid fears of additional attacks.
The calling of the crisis meeting – the second in less than 24 hours – indicates how seriously the government is taking what it says is a terrorist incident.
The capital has not witnessed an alert of this kind since the summer of 2005, when London’s public transport network was targeted with coordinated bomb attacks.
British media outlets, including Sky and the Daily Mail, are naming one of the suspects as Michael Adebolajo.
As the initial shock over the man’s gory death at the hands of two knife-wielding men ebbed Thursday, an individual story of courage stood out.
Searches have been carried out at several locations in connection with the slaying, Assistant Commissioner for Specialist Crime and Operations Mark Rowley said. One address searched was in Lincolnshire, eastern England.
An additional 1,200 police are on London’s streets to reassure the public, Rowley said, with extra patrols at key locations such as religious institutions and transport hubs.
“We are also liaising closely with the military to ensure appropriate security measures are in place in relation to military premises and personnel,” he said.
There were concerns the brutal incident might inflame animosity against Muslims, with Metropolitan Police deploying riot police Wednesday as a precautionary measure.
The Muslim Council of Britain, after condemning what it called “a truly barbaric act that has no basis in Islam,” urged Muslims and non-Muslims alike “to come together in solidarity to ensure the forces of hatred do not prevail.”
“What we have seen on the streets of London has been particularly sickening, a really, really heinous act of I would say criminality – and I’m being careful to say criminality, not terrorism,” said political and social commentator Mohammed Ansar told CNN.
The motivation behind what happened remains unclear, he pointed out.
“What we need at this time is a sense of calm, a sense of measure and a sense of perspective. What we don’t need are knee-jerk reactions … to really ratchet up tensions and really stoke and inflame anxieties within communities.”
– CNN NEWS