Racial tensions are escalating in the aftermath of the horrific beheading of a soldier in southeast London Wednesday by two black men with a jihadist motive — one of which has been identified as Michael Olumide Adebolajo. As far-right groups have organized protests, riot police have been deployed across the country, and Prime Minister Cameron has called for peace in the streets. New reports indicate that the two suspects were known to Britain’s domestic security service.
The beheading of the British soldier occurred in the Woolwich district not far from the Royal Artillery Barracks. It is believed that the victim was targeted for wearing a "Help for Heroes" military charity T-shirt. The jihadist motivation of the two men, believed to be homegrown local terrorists, is evident from the video they had a bystander record showing one of the men holding the meat cleavers used in the crime. When police arrived the men, one with the knives and another wielding a gun, attacked police and were shot, but according to the Guardian their injuries are not fatal.
The video shows the two men yelling “Allahu Akbar.” One of the murderers, with his hands drenched in blood, continued: "We swear by Almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you. The only reasons we have done this is because Muslims are dying every day. This British soldier is an eye for an eye a tooth for tooth … We apologize that women had to see this today but in our lands our women have to see the same. You people will never be safe. Remove your government. They don't care about you… [There will be] a war in London tonight.”
"The fact that they waited to be caught is indicative of what they are after, which is publicity," Peter Clarke, a former counterterrorism commander for London's Metropolitan Police Department, told CBS News, "they were trying to do is to turn the population against itself."
The English Defence League, a far-right gang of military veterans formed in 2009 to protest Islamic immigrants in England, answered the call for a war in London with this tweet calling its members to action: "ANY EDL MEMBERS TAKE TO THE STREETS IN YOUR LOCAL TOWN/CITY TAKE A STAND !!!!!!"
Wednesday night a reported 200 members of the English Defence League clashed with police, who as many have observed, are likely the same police who responded to the crime scene. In what are believed to be retaliatory crimes, a man with two knives threw a smoke grenade into a mosque later that evening, demanding that those inside come out and answer for the crime in Woolwich, and in Kent, a man was arrested for "racially aggravated criminal damage" at a religious building.
Despite the Muslim Council of Britain’s condemnation of what it called “a truly barbaric act,” religious tensions are sure to rise given the men’s links to prominent British Muslim radical leader Anjem Choudary who told CNN that he knew one of the men.
However, judging from the measured response in Britain to the 2005 subway and bus attacks, and the conciliatory tone in many of the main British newspapers Thursday morning, it is unlikely that there will not be serious or violent blowback towards the 3 million Muslims living in the UK.
Prime Minister Cameron responded to the attack by immediately returning from France, where he was meeting with President Hollande, and calling for a crisis meeting of senior officials, and indication that the government believes this to be a terrorist incident.
The meeting was followed by a statement in which Cameron said Britain would be “absolutely resolute” in the aftermath of the attack, vowing that those responsible would be brought to justice. "This was not just an attack on Britain and on the British way of life, it was also a betrayal of Islam and of the Muslim communities who give so much to our country," he said. "There is nothing in Islam that justifies this truly dreadful act. ... The fault lies solely with the sickening individuals who carried out this attack."