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Attack 'meant to divide community'

A counter-terrorism chief has condemned the murder of Lee Rigby as an " atrocious" attack that "shocked and sickened" the world.

Assistant commissioner Cressida Dick, who leads Scotland Yard's anti-terror teams, said there was nothing that could justify the barbaric attack on the young soldier by British Muslim converts Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale.

"This was an horrific attack on a young man in a busy London street as members of the public went about their daily business," she said. "My thoughts and the thoughts of everybody in the Met are with Lee's family and his loved ones.

"He was aged just 25 when he was killed. He had a loving family including a two-year-old son Jack.

"What happened to Lee that day as he returned to Woolwich Barracks has shocked and sickened people in London, the UK and far beyond.

"We heard what Adebolajo said about the attack during the trial. You have heard the judge's comments that that was no defence. There is nothing that can justify those atrocious actions on that day.

"Lee was struck from behind without warning and subjected to the most appalling violence with no opportunity to defend himself. All that occurred in a very public place, with a very real threat to members of the public."

She said that the murder was designed to cause rifts in the community.

"This was an act that was intended to divide the community. It has in fact brought people together. At the time and now I welcome the condemnation of this attack from mosques and Muslim community organisations and prominent people in London and throughout the UK."

Soldiers will remain a target for terrorists and the threat cannot be completely eliminated, she said.

"Sadly we know that some people have a completely perverted ideology, do regard soldiers as a target. It's important that we recognise that and try to protect our military colleagues as best we possibly can.

"There are thousands of people who are subject to security service interest and investigations.

"Personally I think we've got a very good record, and I've always said sorry we cannot - and by 'we' I mean the big 'we', police, society, agencies - we cannot reduce the risk of something like this happening to absolute zero, but we will do everything in our power to do so."

Both men were known to the security services and the police - Adebowale was jailed for drug dealing, while Adebolajo was imprisoned for violence, and later arrested in Kenya apparently trying to join a terrorist group in Somalia. The pair also showed support for extremist group al- Muhajiroun.

The Intelligence and Security Committee is now investigating how much the UK authorities knew about the pair, and whether Fusilier Rigby's murder could have been prevented.

Ms Dick said: "They will tell us whether there are processes that we could improve, or decisions that in hindsight, although I look back and think they seem reasonable, they would say well maybe if you had done that it might have turned right or left, it might have been different.

"It would be for them to say whether they think that if we had done anything different it might have prevented the attack.

"There maybe something that when we look back looks like a missed opportunity."

The police launched a "huge investigation" into the murder, making 13 arrests in total, but found nothing to suggest anyone else was involved, and could not pin down where the men had bought their gun.

Ms Dick said dealing with "self-starter" terrorists like Adebolajo and Adebowale, who stage small-scale plots outside wider networks, was a difficult issue.

"It is a very challenging problem for us to deal with," she said. "The threat that we have been dealing with in counter-terrorism policing always changes, continues to change, and at the moment we certainly see that as a significant part of the problems that face us."

Both of the killers attended demonstrations linked to the now-banned group Al-Muhajiroun, co- founded by controversial British preacher Anjem Choudary.

Ms Dick said: "Mr Choudary is somebody that most of the British public find to be a very offensive person, a somewhat ridiculous figure in some respects, but also somebody who does pose a real risk in that his rhetoric may inspire young and vulnerable people down the road of radicalisation.

"He is also however somebody who knows the law very well, it appears he is very careful in public not to commit criminal offences.

"He is somebody who we keep a very close eye on and will continue to do so. As soon as he, or indeed anybody who shares his activities, his views, his way of being, commits a criminal offence, we will bring them to justice."

Muslim converts may be more vulnerable to extremism because they cannot see past the twisted version of Islam that is spread by hate preachers, she said.

"We do have some of our violent extremists who are converts. A convert may find it harder to recognise proper religious teaching and the perversion of Islam that is spouted by some of our extremists.

"Some of the people who might become converts may be more vulnerable, and secondly they may find it harder to get good instruction."

However, she admitted that it may never be known exactly why Adebolajo and Adebowale became religious fanatics.

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