Terrorism returned to the streets of London as two suspected Muslim fanatics butchered a man in broad daylight in the name of "Allah".
One of the attackers behind the barbaric killing, near the Royal Artillery Barracks in Woolwich, was filmed wielding a bloodied meat cleaver, saying: "We swear by almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you."
Security has been stepped up at military barracks across London, as witnesses and others close to the area said the victim, pronounced dead immediately, was a serving British soldier. Metropolitan Police officers called to the terrifying scenes opened fire and shot the attackers, who were rushed to nearby hospitals, where one is said to be in a serious condition.
Prime Minister David Cameron described the attack as "truly shocking" while the Home Secretary Theresa May said it was "sickening and barbaric". At a press conference in Paris, the PM said Britain has faced such terror attacks before and added: "We will never buckle in the face of it."In expressing solidarity with the PM, French president Francois Hollande referred to the murdered man as a "British soldier". The Prime Minister, who was planning to stay in Paris overnight, is to return on Wednesday night instead.
After it became clear through witness accounts that the attackers had political and religious motives, the Government held a so-called Cobra emergency response meeting. The meeting, which lasted around an hour, heard security had been tightened at Woolwich barracks and increased at all London barracks, Downing Street said. It was attended by Mrs May, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond, Mayor of London Boris Johnson, Met Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, Met Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick and intelligence agencies.The meeting was told there are strong indications that it was a terrorist incident.
In a chilling development, footage emerged of one of the suspected killers, apparently explaining his terrifying actions. In the clip, obtained by ITV News, he is heard to say: "We must fight them as they fight us. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. I apologise that women have had to witness this today, but in our land our women have to see the same. You people will never be safe. Remove your government, they don't care about you." In an extended version on The Sun website, the man adds: "You think David Cameron is going to get caught in the street when we start bussin' our guns? You think politicians are going to die? No it's going to be the average guy, like you, and your children. So get rid of them. Tell them to bring our troops back so you can all live in peace." The attacker, who spoke clear English without a foreign accent, is then seen walking towards the victim, who is lying in the street. Another man is standing by a car that has collided with a road sign.
Footage and pictures show a frenzied scene at the junction of John Wilson Street and Artillery Place in Woolwich. Some images show three men lying scattered in the street, surrounded by discarded weapons and splashes of blood. Eyewitnesses huddled behind a police cordon as around 30 to 40 officers secured the scene, just around the corner from Mulgrave Primary School. Woolwich and Greenwich MP Nick Raynsford said it was his understanding that the dead man was a serving soldier. One witness, identified as James Heneghan, said he and his partner saw two black men attack a young man aged around 20 years old in a Help for Heroes T-shirt with kitchen knives like he was "a piece of meat". "They were hacking at this poor guy, literally," he told LBC radio. "They were hacking at him, chopping him, cutting him."
A Buckingham Palace spokesman said: "The Queen is of course concerned by the report of an attack in Woolwich earlier today. Her Majesty is being kept informed." The spokesman also confirmed the Queen will visit the King's Troop Royal Horse Artillery at Woolwich barracks on May 31, which was planned before Wednesday's attack. Ed Miliband, leader of the Labour Party, said: "This is a truly appalling murder which will shock the entire country."
The Ministry of Defence said it was urgently looking at the reports the incident involved a soldier but had no further comment. The incident occurred 200 yards from the Royal Artillery Barracks, adjacent to Woolwich Common, the historical home of the Royal Artillery. The barracks, also known as the Woolwich station, now houses a number of the King's Troop Royal Horse Artillery and independent companies of the Grenadier and Coldstream Guards. Met Police Commander Simon Letchford confirmed the two attackers were shot by armed officers. The Independent Police Complaints Commission has started an investigation in to the circumstances surrounding the shooting of the two suspects. This is a matter of routine when officers use their firearms.
A statement from the Muslim Council of Britain said: "This is a truly barbaric act that has no basis in Islam and we condemn this unreservedly. Our thoughts are with the victim and his family. We understand the victim is a serving member of the Armed Forces. Muslims have long served in this country's Armed Forces, proudly and with honour. This attack on a member of the Armed Forces is dishonourable, and no cause justifies this murder. This action will no doubt heighten tensions on the streets of the United Kingdom. We call on all our communities, Muslim and non-Muslim, to come together in solidarity to ensure the forces of hatred do not prevail."