London Terror Attack: Names, Family Tragedy and Deepening Mystery

  • Share
  • Read Later
Drummer Lee Rigby, of the British Army's 2nd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers.
Ministry of Defence / Handout / Reuters

Drummer Lee Rigby, of the British Army's 2nd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers.

The whole world witnessed the aftermath of the suspected May 22 terror attack in London. Bystanders filmed and photographed the body of a man, lying in a suburban street, as his apparent killers, not fleeing but seeming to flaunt their work, remained at the scene. But despite this immediacy, the key, human details were missing. Investigators are still a long way from piecing together exactly what happened and why, but details are emerging about the suspects—and the victim. The man so brutally targeted was a soldier, 25-year-old Drummer Lee Rigby. He had a nickname, “Riggers,” and hailed from Manchester. And he had a two-year-old son called Jack.

Lieutenant Colonel Jim Taylor MBE, Commanding Officer Second Fusiliers, said in a statement on Thursday that Rigby “was a real character within the Second Fusiliers. Larger than life, he was at the heart of our Corps of Drums.”

Rigby, who joined the army in 2006, had taken up a post with the recruiting team at his regiment’s London headquarters. He had served abroad too, including a dangerous tour of duty in Afghanistan. The suspect in his murder who ranted at a rolling camera phone, bloodied and carrying a cleaver, appeared to suggest service by British military in Muslim countries made all British soldiers such as Rigby legitimate targets.

Sources have put a name to that face too. He is thought to be Michael Olumide Adebolajo, a 28-year-old, according to sources for the Guardian and other British news organizations. Yet every fresh revelation about Adebolajo raises as many questions as answers. Born and bred in Lambeth, a London neighborhood lying south of the Thames, Adebolajo reportedly moved with his family to Romford, in Essex, where he attended Marshalls Park School and Havering Sixth Form college.

Former neighbors describe the Adebolajo family as deeply Christian; “they were,” one man told the Guardian “very pleasant, a very ordinary normal family.” Adebolajo is thought to have converted to Islam a decade ago after he began studying at the University of Greenwich and became involved with the extremist group al-Muhajiroun. Banned after the July 7, 2005 terrorist attacks in London, the group continued to operate under new names. Anjem Choudary, the former leader of the group, has said he knew Michael Adebolajo from group meetings that he attended between 2005-2011. Choudary told the Guardian that Adebolajo “was on our ideological wave-length.” In an interview with Channel Four News, Choudary made another claim. Adebolajo, he said, is “a very nice man. I believe he’s a family man. He’s a very calm and non-violent man. As you can see from the clip yesterday he was concerned and apologizing to any women and children who were there.”

Despite his move to Islam, Adebolajo wasn’t a familiar face around the Greenwich Islamic Centre, though it was near his university. Men standing guard at the red brick, gold-domed mosque on Thursday — regular attendees who were acting as both the mosque’s spokespeople and security after anti-Muslim demonstrations the previous night in response to the attack — told TIME that Adebolajo had never attended services and that anyone who expresses extremist views would have been banned.

(MOREBritain’s Prime Minister Denounces Violent Responses to Wednesday’s Brutal Knife Attack)

The second suspect, whose image hasn’t been as widely captured, has not yet been named. The BBC reported that Whitehall sources have confirmed both suspects—who are currently under arrest while being treated in London hospitals—were known to the security services. That, too, raises fresh questions, about what the authorities knew and whether they could have done more.

Now police, security services and government officials are working together to find out as much as possible as quickly as possible. On Thursday, teams of police raided private properties in various outer London neighborhoods, including Adebolajo’s sister’s home, as well as in the north-east town of Lincoln, where Adebolajo’s family’s home is located.

Police investigating the brutal attack also announced late Thursday afternoon that two more people had been arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to commit murder. A man and woman, both 29, are being held in a south London station, but scant details have been released about their suspected crimes. And so, the world continues to watch.

MOREMan Hacked to Death on Busy London Street

Click here to read Catherine Mayer’s in-depth TIME International cover story on British Prime Minister David Cameron, available exclusively for TIME subscribers.

Not a subscriber? Subscribe now or purchase a digital access pass.