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One Of London Attack Suspects Had Troubled Past


For more on this story, we turn now to Sandra Laville, a reporter for The Guardian newspaper in London. Thanks for joining us today.


SIEGEL: You've done quite a bit of reporting on at least one of the suspects, the young man in the now famous cell phone video. What can you tell us about him?

LAVILLE: Well, from that image we all saw of this man with bloodied hands and a meat cleaver, what's emerging is a kind of story of a young British boy who grows up on the streets of Rumford and Essex, just an ordinary schoolboy really. His name is Michael Adebolajo. He's of Nigerian heritage, but born in the U.K., born in south London in 1984.

And he had two siblings, a brother and a sister. He went to a comprehensive state school in Rumford and his friends describe him as, you know, a funny, intelligent guy who had lots of friends. So it's this kind of image of a jihadi born out of an ordinary British life, really.

SIEGEL: But I gather, son of a Christian household and a churchgoing mother.

LAVILLE: Exactly. A churchgoing mother who dressed in sort of West African costume every Sunday to go the church and very loving family. In fact, he started to get into to trouble in his teens and get involved in street gangs and started to carry a knife. And his friends said - he moved schools and his friends said he used to hang around with about 20 to 25 kids on the street and started robbing phones and, you know, really generally going the wrong way as a teenager.

And his mother clearly was concerned, his mother and father, and they actually moved the whole family from London. They moved them 150 miles north to the midlands in England to try and get him away from this bad influence. And a kind of irony is that he then comes back to London, goes to university and jumps straight into another influence at the other end of the kind of pole polarity because he jumped straight into extremist Islam and starts joining this group called al-Muhajiroun - which is obviously now banned in the U.K. but wasn't at the time - and listens to Anjem Choudary and Omar Bakri Muhammed and really gets sucked into this extremist vision of Islam.

SIEGEL: In Britain, these are well known names of radical Islamist figures.

LAVILLE: Yeah. Al-Muhajiroun was a group that sort of started off in universities and it's been banned and it's changed its name and it's come back and it's been banned again. But it's, you know, all of the names of this group have been banned but it's still there on the streets. In fact, Adebelajo was, you know, recently, regularly seen on the streets of Woolwich High Street, which is where this - near where the killing took place manning a stall, a al-Muhajiroun stall, handing out extremist literature.

And he was also seen recently outside a community center calling on his audience to go and fight in Syria. So this is a guy that, you know, was well in with the extremists. And he had flagged up on the security services radar, but not as a kind of key figure, but more of as a peripheral figure in investigations.

SIEGEL: Do you know as much about the other suspect, about the other man who was out there on the street with him yesterday?

LAVILLE: What's strange is that Adebelajo's name emerged quite quickly on Twitter last night and we were sort of piecing it together from that, but there's been nothing about the other suspect. Then, later today, we managed to find an address which had been raided and we went around there. And then, what is emerging is a 22-year-old British-born of Nigerian heritage, also radicalized in the last sort of five to six years, lives with his mother.

He seems to be the second guy in this and we don't know how they met at this stage. They both lived in Greenwich. One went to Greenwich University. There's an assumption they might have met there or through this radical Islamist group al-Muhajiroun.

SIEGEL: Sandra Laville, one other question and on a different aspect of this. How do the police in London defend taking so much time, it seems, 20 minutes to arrive with appropriate force on the scene of a murder in broad daylight?

LAVILLE: Well, they've denied it took 20 minutes. Today, they're saying it took 13 minutes. It does seem a long time. I mean, I think the initial response was within minutes and then 13 minutes for the armed response to come. There are a lot of armed response teams in London. It does seem a long time, but, you know, I actually think maybe 13 minutes isn't that long on a busy London street.

It's hard to move around that quickly. The helicopter got there before them. The ambulance helicopter got there before them, I suppose. But they say it's routine. That's a kind of ordinary time.

SIEGEL: And, of course, in Britain, just the very nature of an armed team of police is not, that's not a routine patrol car. This is something unusual and...

LAVILLE: No. And they wouldn't have been necessarily anywhere near because nothing like this was expected.

SIEGEL: Thank you for filling us in on so much about this case.

LAVILLE: Thank you.

SIEGEL: That's reporter Sandra Laville of The Guardian, talking about what's known about the suspects in yesterday's murder of a British soldier. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.