COUNTER-terrorism police have arrested three more men in connection with the murder of soldier Lee Rigby in London.
Scotland Yard said two men aged 24 and 28 were arrested at a residential address in London, while a 21-year-old man was arrested in the street. All three were detained on suspicion of conspiracy to commit murder. Taser electric stun guns were used on the 28-year-old and the 21-year-old.
Two men, Michael Adebolajo, 28 and Michael Adebowale, 22, remain under armed guard in hospital after being shot and arrested by police on suspicion of his murder. Adebolajo was recorded at the scene saying Rigby’s death was in retaliation for the killing of Muslims by British soldiers on duty overseas.
Also last night, French authorities were investigating a possible extremist link to the stabbing of a 23-year-old soldier in a busy commercial district outside Paris. A police union spokesman said surveillance footage of the attacker showed him as tall and bearded, aged about 35, possibly of North African origin and wearing a white Arab-style tunic.
In London, hundreds of wellwishers flocked to pay their respects to Rigby yesterday, while thousands of far-right supporters hijacked his brutal killing by chanting his name at a protest.
As tensions heightened, the young father’s murder provoked a backlash of anger across the country, with many incidents of mosques being attacked, racial abuse and comments made on social media.
Faith Matters, an organisation that works to reduce extremism, said anti-Muslim attacks had soared in the past few days, with more than 160 incidents in the UK reported since the murder of the 25-year-old drummer, who was hacked to death in a London street on Wednesday in full view of passers-by.
Prime Minister David Cameron announced that the parliamentary intelligence and security committee, chaired by former foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind, is investigating the disclosure that the suspects arrested at the scene of the murder, Adebolajo and Adebowale, were known to MI5. Reports emerged last night that Adebowale was detained by police just two months ago.
Meanwhile, Abu Nusaybah, a friend of Adebolajo, was arrested immediately after giving a television interview on Friday night describing how Adebolajo had been radicalised and alleging that MI5 had tried to recruit him. He remains in custody.
The repercussions of Rigby’s death continued to grow yesterday. In Woolwich, hundreds of people flocked to the site of his murder to pay their respects to the soldier and father, including Muslim leaders and BNP leader Nick Griffin.
Griffin’s visit was criticised as “provocative” by Akbar Khan, chair of the anti-racist and community development organisation Building Bridges.
He said: “All Muslims have come out and condemned this act of violence. Given the serene and sad atmosphere prevailing in the country because of this person’s death, he is being very cynical and exploiting the raw nerves for his benefit.”
Northumbria Police said it had arrested three people in northern England yesterday morning, ahead of an English Defence League demonstration, on suspicion of posting racist tweets. Two more men were released on bail after their arrest for allegedly making offensive comments on Twitter about the murder.
Later in Newcastle, about 2,000 people took part in an EDL march, while a counter demonstration was held by a group called Newcastle Unites to coincide with the far-right rally. Officers estimated between 1,500 and 2,000 took part in the EDL march and about 400 in the Newcastle Unites event. The marches finished about 100 yards apart, separated by lines of riot police, as the demonstrations brought the city centre traffic to a standstill.
Several hundred EDL protesters gathered on the steps of St Mary’s Cathedral in Newcastle ahead of the march. Shouts of “Whose streets? Our streets” rang out, aslong with “RIP Lee Rigby”. Police made “a number of arrests”, but the marches passed off “without major incident”.
The BNP yesterday announced plans to hold a demonstration in Woolwich next weekend. National organiser Adam Walker said the brutal murder meant a “line has been drawn in the sand”. He said the next task “is to force the political class to take action and deport Muslim hate preachers”. The move was condemned as an attempt to “divide our community”. Onay Kasab, from Greenwich Socialist Party, accused the BNP of “attempting to cynically exploit this tragedy to further their own poisonous ends”.
The Scottish Defence League, an off-shoot of the EDL which claims its aim is to “stop the Islamisation of the UK”, has also said it will hold a demonstration on Saturday, at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh.
A preliminary report into what the intelligence services knew about the two suspects in Rigby’s murder will be handed to the parliamentary inquiry next week. Rifkind has been briefed by the director general of MI5, Andrew Parker. “What we will be wishing to know is to what extent the intelligence services had any awareness of the two individuals,” said Rifkind.
Politicians and community leaders have been trying to dampen down tensions in the wake of Rigby’s murder, while police numbers have been boosted in vulnerable areas.
But despite those efforts, reports of anti-Muslim abuse have soared. Fiyaz Mughal, director of Faith Matters, said yesterday that 162 incidents had been reported since the Woolwich attack — compared with four to six incidents a day on average before the murder.
The latest include name calling, assaults and materials being thrown at individuals, as well as online incidents. There have also been eight attacks against mosques across Britain.