LONDON – Two men with butcher knives hacked another to death Wednesday near a London military barracks and one then went on video to explain the crime – shouting political statements, gesturing with bloodied hands and waving a meat cleaver. Soon after, arriving police shot and wounded the unidentified assailants and took them into custody.
The brutal daylight attack galvanized this city and raised fears that terrorism had returned to London.
Authorities did not identify the victim by name, but French President Francois Hollande referred to him as a “soldier” at a news conference in Paris with visiting British Prime Minister David Cameron.
Cameron would not confirm that, but British media reported that the victim was wearing a shirt in support of troops and Britain’s Ministry of Defense said it was investigating whether a U.K. soldier was involved.
Calling it “an appalling murder,” Cameron said there were “strong indications” it was an act of terrorism, and two other officials said there were signs the attack was motivated by radical Islam.
The Cabinet’s emergency committee was immediately convened and security was stepped up at army barracks across London. Cameron cut short his Paris trip to return to London and his office said he would chair another session today.
The incident unfolded Wednesday afternoon when officers responded to reports of an assault just a few blocks from the Royal Artillery Barracks in the neighborhood of Woolwich.
Images from the scene showed a blue car that appeared to have been used in the attack, its hood crushed and rammed into a signpost on a sidewalk that was smeared with blood. A number of weapons – including butchers’ knives, a machete and a meat cleaver – were strewn on the street.
While there were moments of chaos – one local primary school went into lockdown when a teacher saw the victim’s body – the scene was striking in its normalcy. Pedestrians milled about with grocery bags and shopping carts as a body lay motionless in the street – and the attackers remained on the scene, wielding long knives.
One British broadcaster ran video taken on a cellphone of what appeared to be one of the attackers, his hands covered in blood, making political statements about “an eye for an eye” as a body lay behind him.
Footage – obtained by ITV news and the Sun newspaper – showed a man in a dark jacket and knit cap walking toward a camera, clutching a meat cleaver and a knife. Speaking in English with a British accent, he apologized that women passers-by “have had to witness this” barbarity, saying that “in our land our women have to see the same.”
He gave no indication what that land was as he urged people to tell the government to “bring our troops back.” British troops are deployed in Afghanistan and recently supported the French-led intervention in Mali.
“We swear by almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you,” the man declared. “We must fight them as they fight us.” The camera then panned away to show a body lying on the ground.
Scotland Yard confirmed that counterterrorism officers were leading an investigation into the attack. Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe said the two men had been arrested and urged Londoners to remain calm. Both were hospitalized, one in serious condition.