Exiled cleric praises UK attackers' 'courage'
A Syrian-born Islamist cleric who taught one of the men accused of hacking to death an off-duty British soldier on a London street praised the attack for its "courage" and said Muslims would see it as a strike on a military target.
In an interview in Tripoli, northern Lebanon, where he has lived since being banished from Britain in 2005, Omar Bakri, founder of banned British Islamist group Al Muhajiroun, said he knew suspect Michael Adebolajo from his lectures a decade ago.
"When I saw the footage I recognised the face immediately," Bakri told Reuters. "I used to know him. A quiet man, very shy, asking lots of questions about Islam."
"What surprised me (is) the quiet man, the man who is very shy, decided to carry out an attack against a British soldier in the middle of the day in the middle of a street in the UK. In east London. It's incredible.
"When I saw that, honestly I was very surprised - standing firm, courageous, brave. Not running away. Rather, he said why he carried (it out) and he wanted the whole world to hear it."
The attack has been vociferously condemned by Muslim organisations across Britain.
Adebolajo, 28, a British-born convert from a Christian Nigerian immigrant family, went by the nickname Mujahid - warrior - after taking up Islam as a teenager in a suburb on the northeast outskirts of London.
He was filmed with his hands still covered with the blood of Afghan war veteran Lee Rigby, 25, after the attack. Clutching a butcher's knife and meat cleaver, he said the killing was revenge for British participation in wars in foreign countries.
He and a second knife-wielding attacker, Nigerian-born naturalised British citizen Michael Adebowale, 22, are in hospital after being shot by police during their arrest. They have yet to be charged. Police have also arrested another man and a woman under suspicion of conspiracy to murder.
"WE DON'T SLEEP ON OUR GRIEVANCES"
The interview with Bakri in his flat in the Abu Samra district of Tripoli was twice interrupted by his infant son Osama, who broke into the room playing with a plastic toy. The boy was named after slain al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
"He is supposed to go fight (US President Barack) Obama in the future, and maybe to deal with the Obama of his times. We called him after... Sheikh Osama," Bakri said, smiling often as he spoke but lacing light-hearted comments with hints of menace.
After a photographer took his picture, the bearded Bakri, wearing a black cloak over white trousers and white leather shoes, mockingly adopted a threatening pose.
"We know the media, they just want evil pictures," he said. "But we are going to be in power soon... Don't think that we sleep on our grievances. That Michael, after 10 years, he killed (the soldier) in front of everyone ... Was he a man or not?"
"The prophet (Mohammad) said an infidel and his killer will not meet in Hell. That's a beautiful saying," he said. "May God reward (Adebolajo) for his actions."
Bakri said British authorities were inviting retaliation by targeting Muslims with anti-terrorist legislation and police raids.
"If you breach the covenant of security with Muslims you are digging your grave," he said. "I cannot condemn what Michael did. I don't see it as a crime as far as Islam is concerned".
He said radical Islam was winning the bulk of converts in Britain and scoffed at the "moderate chocolate" Muslims who he said are "always melting the way the West wants them to be - they never stand for what they believe".
"They are just a waste of space".
Bakri said his organisation Al Muhajiroun had nothing to do with the attack because members had not seen Adebolajo since 2005. However, Anjem Choudary, who took over the leadership of Al Muhajiroun when Bakri was exiled from Britain, has told Reuters Adebolajo attended the group's events until about two years ago.
"Maybe Michael, in the eyes of many people in Britain, Muslim and non-Muslim, they don't condone what he did. They condemn it. But in the eyes of Muslims around the world they don't see him the same way. The Muslims in this country, they are so happy, proud of him. They see him as a freedom fighter attacking a military target."
Bakri said he had been living in Lebanon since 2005, under an agreement by which Lebanon prevents him from leaving the country for 30 years. But he said he was in daily contact with students in Britain.