A man seen with bloody hands wielding a butcher's knife after the killing of a British soldier on the streets of London was described as a convert to Islam who took part in demonstrations with a banned radical group, two Muslim hard-liners say.
Police raided houses in connection with the brazen slaying of the off-duty soldier on Wednesday (local time), identified as Lee Rigby, of the 2nd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, who served in Afghanistan. In addition to the two suspects who were hospitalised after being shot by police, authorities said they had arrested a man and a woman, both 29, on suspicion of conspiracy to murder.
Police would not say whether it appeared Rigby had been targeted specifically because of his military service. Although he was not in uniform at the time he was killed, he was said by witnesses to be wearing a T-shirt for a British veterans' charity.
Anjem Choudary, the former head of the radical group al-Muhajiroun, told The Associated Press that the man depicted in startling video footage that emerged after Rigby's death was named Michael Adebolajo, a Christian who converted to Islam around 2003 and took part in several demonstrations by the group in London.
The BBC broadcast video from 2007 showing Adebolajo standing near Choudary at a rally.
Omar Bakri Muhammad, who now lives in Lebanon but had been a radical Muslim preacher in London, also said he recognised the man seen on TV as Adebolajo and said he attended his London lectures in the early 2000s.
Police have not identified either of the two wounded suspects and have not said when they would do so. Authorities in Britain usually wait to name suspects after they have been charged.
Bakri, speaking from Lebanon, said he remembers Adebolajo as a "shy person" who was keen to learn about Islam and asked interesting questions.
"He used to listen more than he spoke," Bakri said. "I was very surprised to learn that he is the suspect in the attack."
Mary Warder, who has lived in the Woolwich area for more than 30 years, told the AP said she had seen both of the suspects preaching on the streets. Shopkeepers, however, said they couldn't remember seeing them.
The two men suspected of killing the 25-year-old Rigby had been part of previous investigations by security services, a British official said on Thursday (local time), as investigators searched several locations and tried to determine whether the men were part of a wider terrorist plot.
There also was no clear indication on when or where the suspects may have been radicalised.
Rigby, the father of a 2-year-old boy, was slain outside the Royal Artillery Barracks in the Woolwich area of south London while horrified bystanders watched in the busy city known for its decorum.
The bizarre scene was recorded on witnesses' cellphones, with one of the two suspects boasting of their exploits and warning of more violence as the soldier lay on the ground. Holding bloody knives and a meat cleaver, they waited for the arrival of police, who shot them in the legs, according to a passerby who tried to save the dying soldier.
A British government official said one of the two men tried to go to Somalia to train or fight with the terror group al-Shabab. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak about the police investigation, would not say if the suspect had been arrested or whether he had made any other trips to the country.
Citing unidentified sources described as having "knowledge of British jihadis," the BBC's "Newsnight" program reported that one of the suspects in the attack was arrested last year on his way to joining al-Shabab.
Prime Minister David Cameron vowed that Britain would not be cowed by the horrific bloodshed, and that it would reject "the poisonous narrative of extremism on which this violence feeds." In Washington, President Barack Obama said the US "stands resolute with the United Kingdom" in the fight against violent extremism.
There were few signs of alarm on the streets of London, which has been hit by terrorist attacks during a long confrontation with the Irish Republican Army and more recently, in July 2005, by al Qaeda-inspired suicide bombings that killed 52 commuters.
"It's hateful, it's horrific and upsetting. But it doesn't seem to have made much of a difference," Christian White, 43, said at King's Cross station, close to the site of one of the 2005 bombings. "Londoners are used to living in a city where life is complicated."
Even so, security was increased at military barracks and installations in the capital, with extra armed guards added in many cases. Police said extra patrols were added at sensitive areas, including places of worship, transport hubs and congested areas.