Could Woolwich attack have been foreseen?

Could Woolwich attack have been foreseen?

by Sheila Musaji

Immediately after the brutal murder of Lee Rigby by two Muslim men in London, Muslim individuals and organizations condemned the attack.  British Muslims have taken to Twitter and to Facebook to denounce the Woolwich attack and to express their dismay that anyone could claim that such an act of brutality had anything to do with religion.  Representatives of many British Muslim organizations have condemned this terrible crime.  The Association of British Muslims are attempting to get a permit for a gathering of British Muslims on May 30th to denounce the murder and support the family of Lee Rigby.  They have set up a Facebook page with details and directions to the event in Ilford, London here. On Friday, approximately 5,000 British Muslims gathered at the Morden mosque to condemn the murder.  Worshippers offered prayers for Drummer Lee Rigby and his family and expressed solidarity against extremism.

It is now known that the two perpetrators of this crime are of Nigerian descent. Reuters reports:. ”...  The two suspected killers, now under guard in hospitals, had been known to security services before Wednesday’s daylight attack, security sources said. Another man and a woman, both aged 29, were detained on suspicion of conspiracy to murder.  One of the assailants, filmed calmly justifying the killing as he stood by the body holding a knife and meat cleaver in bloodied hands, was named by acquaintances as 28-year-old Londoner Michael Adebolajo - a British-born convert to Islam.”   The second perpetrator has been identified as Michael Adebowale, who was in a local juvenile gang, and survived a knife attack several years ago, after which he converted to Islam.  Both of these individuals have come under scrutiny by the authorities in investigations over the past few years.  There have been a number of other arrests of acquaintances of the perpetrators, but little is yet known about the significance of those arrests. 

It seems that the two perpetrators had connections with Anjem Choudary and Omar Bakri, the British nutcases from Al-Muhajirun, Hizb-ut-Tahrir, and Muslims4UK that many Muslims have warned about.  The Chicago Tribune reports that Choudary is putting all of the blame for this act on British foreign policy.  “Anjem Choudary said Michael Adebolajo (filmed with his hands covered with blood, carrying a meat cleaver and knife after attacking an off-duty soldier in broad daylight) had attended lectures run by al-Muhajiroun, Choudary’s organization, which was banned under anti-terrorism laws in 2010.”  Adebolajo was picked up by police last year as he tried to leave the country, apparently on his way to join al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabaab fighters in Somalia.  AFP reports that “Adebolajo had reportedly tried to travel to Somalia to fight alongside the country’s Shebab insurgents but had been turned back and had his passport confiscated by police.”  He has been involved in Al Muhajiroun protests.  The Mirror has this photograph of Adebolajo with Anjem Choudary at a protest in 2007. 

The Globe and Mail has now interviewed Omar Bakri Muhammed, the co-founder of Al Muhajiroun from exile in Lebanon.  Bakri praised “the courage” of these criminals.

  ...  Bakri said his organization Al Muhajiroun had nothing to do with the attack because they had not seen Adebolajo since 2005. However, Anjem Choudary, who took over the leadership of Al Muhajiroun when Bakri was exiled from Britain, has told Reuters Adebolajo attended the group’s events until about two years ago.

“I think Michael, or Mujahid, is going to stand for what God has destined for him,” Bakri said, speaking in English. “God destined for him to carry out the attack and God destined for the British soldier to die for the cause he believed in.  Maybe Michael, in the eyes of many people in Britain, Muslim and non-Muslim, they don’t condone what he did. They condemn it. But in the eyes of Muslims around the world they don’t see him the same way. The Muslims in this country, they are so happy, proud of him. They see him as a freedom fighter attacking a military base.”

Bakri said he had been living in Lebanon since 2005, under an agreement by which Lebanon prevents him from leaving the country for 30 years. But he said he was in daily contact with students in Britain.

Foreign policies may have been what motivated the anger that led to this despicable criminal act, and Glenn Greenwald discusses this at length here

However, individuals like Anjem Choudary and Omar Bakri, and groups like Al-Muhajiroun need to be held accountable for providing angry, and unstable young men with a false and twisted interpretation of Islam that they can use to attempt to justify their violent acts, or even to convince themselves that such savagery is noble or courageous. 

Not only have these individuals carried out a barbaric and cowardly murder which is frightening and disgusting to all decent people —but they have also added another crime to this in attempting to justify their act or connect it in any way with Islam.  It is difficult to watch the video in which the individual identified as Michael Adebolajo says that this act was done in revenge for perceived injustices towards Muslims in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other countries.  The MOTIVE he is expressing is clearly political, but wrapped in “Islamic” jargon.  According to Sharia Muslims are obliged to obey the laws of the country in which they live.  These individuals have not only engaged in hirabah, but in treason under British law and under Sharia.

Any Muslims engaged in terrorism, or attacks on civilians are not engaged in jihad but in HIRABAH, no matter what their self definition.  The use of the term jihad to describe acts that are reprehensible is an attempt to justify unjustifiable actions.  Neither Muslim extremists/terrorists or Islamophobes have the right to co-opt or hijack or defame the term jihad by their criminal interpretations.  Mainstream Muslims reject the extremist/terrorist definition and reject the Islamophobes definition of Jihad in favor of the traditional, legitimate, respectable, spiritual concept.  JIHAD is not a dirty word.  There are only two groups who equate jihad and terrorism - the terrorists and the Islamophobes.  (See How Muslims understand the term “jihad” for a discussion and a lengthy article collection on the term jihad). There is an extremist element within the Muslim community (exemplified by groups like al Qaeda, and the Taliban) that attempts to spread their extremist interpretations of Islam which claims that they can justify criminal acts as “jihad”.  Muslims, particularly our scholars, must continue to counter the arguments of this extremist element.  Muslims must also attempt to educate young and impressionable Muslims so that they can see why the arguments of the extremists are false.  Muslims must also continue to counter the false claims of the Islamophobes. 

As a Muslim, I want to know where these young men learned this false perversion of Islam.  Who taught him that Hirabah is Jihad.  This act is NOT JIHAD, it is Hirabah and a criminal act under any mainstream understanding of Sharia.  This is not an “Islamic” act.  These men are NOT “ISLAMIC extremists”.  These individuals may be Muslims, but they are criminals who happen to be Muslim.  They do not represent anything but an incredibly twisted perversion of Islam.  These individuals have betrayed their country, they have betrayed the people of Britain (of every faith), they have betrayed Islam.  These men are extremists, criminals, and murderers.  Nothing about this barbaric act is “Islamic”. 

Somehow, we need to find a way to marginalize lunatic fringe voices like Bakri & Choudary, and to magnify the message of mainstream Muslim scholars like Sheikh Ali Gomaa of al Azhar, Sheik Muhammad Afifi al-Akiti,  the British scholars Shaykh Abu Aaliyah Shurkeel, and Shams Ad-Duha Muhammad or the thousands of Fatwas & statements by mainstream Muslim scholars & organizations, and to expand and stress the many Muslim programs to counter radicalization

The fact that the two young men who murdered Lee Rigby were recent converts to Islam, and perhaps even converted through the preaching of Omar Bakri and Anjem Choudary makes me wonder if it is not likely that such publicity seeking demagogues don’t prey on vulnerable and perhaps unstable young people.  An angry young man who is looking for a way to do something to change a perceived injustice is a vulnerable target for such preachers of hate.  Both of the perpetrators had been involved with gangs and drug dealing.  Sadly, these young men were converted, not to Islam, but to an extremist and hateful cult with Islamic trappings.  We have seen this same sort of “conversion” to extremist cults in the U.S. with the Revolution Muslim and Islamic Thinkers Society groups formed by recent converts influenced by Abdullah El Faisal and Anwar Al Awlaki.  These are not young people searching for a personal spiritual path, they are confused and searching for an identity.  As Robb Leech said about his brother who was also drawn into this pseudo Islamic extremism preached by Anjem Choudary:  ”... The more extreme it is, the more those who look up to him respond. They like the fact that he has a media presence, that the authorities appear to be afraid of him. Why? Because they are young people who are lost and confused in the Western world, and he gives them an identity, something to fight for, a way of channelling that feeling they share of being outsiders in their own society. ...  All had taken their search to extremes because they were extremists. It was part of who they were – or had grown up to become. I wouldn’t say they were born that way, but at some stage in their short lives they had come to believe that they couldn’t live in the world they had been brought up in, and had turned against it. ”

Extremist Muslim individuals like Anwar Al Awlaki, Omar Bakri, Anjem Choudary, Abdullah El Faisal and their ilk are the Muslims who make “good” media copy because they are sensational.  Extremist Islamophobes are also the “experts” who are often interviewed by the same media and for the same reasons.  And, they feed off of each others hatred.  Why is it that these individuals get any media attention at all?  As Muhammad Ali notes they should not be given a platform to feed their egos at the expense of the rest of society.  Extremists on both sides need to be marginalized, not promoted.  They should not be the source of our information.  Why is it that the lunatic fringe is publicized and legitimate, mainstream scholars are ignored?

There are many legitimate grievances that we need to address as a society. There are political, economic, and social issues that are overwhelming to some individuals.  Some of the foreign policies of the U.S., Great Britain, and other western nations, including the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the propping up of dictators and tyrants, certainly lead to legitimate frustration and anger, as do social problems like unemployment, racism, economic instability, etc.  It is legitimate to question such policies and to work to change them.  It is legitimate to be angry about injustices.  It is not legitimate to engage in violent and criminal acts in order to bring about change.  In fact, such acts are not only criminal, but also senseless because they only increase the violence and injustice.  There are many individuals in our society who are frustrated and angry about real or perceived grievances.  Most will not strike out and commit acts of violence, but some will. 

It is clear that as a society, we have been unable to identify individuals who pose a serious threat to others - we have been unable to stop mass shootings, gang warfare in the streets, political and religious terrorism, violence against women (including a rape epidemic), human trafficking, and numerous other threats that bring senseless violence into the lives of innocents.  Law enforcement is hard pressed to identify a recognizable clue to the line that an individual crosses between extremism or radicalism and actual violence.  And, yet, we have many of our fellow citizens demanding that in any case where the perpetrator is a Muslim, the Muslim community “do something” to end the violence or be considered to be complicit in the act.  Some have even suggested that if there is a major terrorist act carried out by a Muslim, then it would be appropriate to bomb Mecca and Medina, or some other Muslim city.  Clearly, there is no way that all dangerous individuals are going to be recognized before they act.  The Muslim community is no more able to do this than the rest of society.  Even when we recognize that some individuals are preaching an extremist message, all that we can do is to publicly counter and denounce that message.  We have no authority to do more than that.  If they do not actually break the law, then even law enforcement is not able to do anything.  The authorities in Britain had at least one of the perpetrators under surveillance due to some suspicious activities, but were unable to detect that he was actually on the verge of turning to violence.  It is hypocritical to expect that the Muslim community can “do something” to read the minds of psychopathic killers and criminals. 

Reports are coming in of violence directed at British mosques and individual British Muslims who have no connection with the perpetrators.  The Zainabia Islamic Centre in Granby was attacked with a molotov cocktail.  In Gillingham, Kent, a man ran into the local mosque and started smashing windows and bookcases. Meanwhile in Braintree, Essex, it is alleged that a man attacked the Islamic place of worship with a knife and explosive device.  Both the attackers have now been arrested by police.  A mosque in Morden is under police guard after threats of arson.  The English Defense League (EDL) has rioted.  Many anti-Muslim incidents have been reported to a local hotline.  Even Muslim businesses have been attacked.  In fact, at least 150 anti-Muslim incidents have been reported in the last few days.  Not surprisingly, some media has responded to this criminal act by scapegoating Islam and promoting Islamophobia.  This also does no one any good.

All of this is the same sort of twisted reasoning as that expressed by Michael Adebolajo in his rant after he murdered a human being.  He said:  We swear by the Almighty Allah, we will never stop fighting you until you leave us alone ... We must fight them as they fight us. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. I apologize that women had to see this today but in our lands our women have to see the same. You people will never be safe. Remove your governments. They don’t care about you. Do you think David Cameron is gonna get caught in the streets when we start busting our guns? Do you think the politicians are gonna die? No, it’s gonna be the average guy — like you.  This is an eye for an eye, revenge, a death for a death, collective guilt, collective punishment.  One of “them” hurt one of “us” and so we will blame all of “them” and take our revenge on the first available target.  This is how both Mohammed Saleem and Lee Rigby became victims of senseless, extremist violence in the past few weeks.  Both murdered by strangers who saw them not as human beings, but as symbols of the hated “other”.  Responding to injustice with injustice makes no sense, and does no one any good.

How can individuals who might be capable of engaging in such violence be identified before they carry out such acts?  There are many radicals who engage in protests, and hand out leaflets expressing extremist views of all sorts in all communities.  Individuals hold and express hateful views on many subjects.  As a society, we have held freedom of speech to be an important value, and so such views are often “protected speech”.  Individuals like Anjem Choudary were born in Britain, and therefore he can’t be simply deported.  Anyone can go to and purchase the extreme right-wing “Anarchists Cookbook”, or “The Turner Diaries”, or go online and read Al Qaeda’s “Inspire” magazine.  Does simply reading, or possessing copies of such materials mean that an individual is likely to carry out a violent act?  What can we do to prevent such incidents?  Anyone can go online and find an unlimited number of sites spreading their own particular brand of extremism and hatred - anti-gay, anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, racist, white supremacist, anti-government, Nazi’s, the KKK — you name it and you can find it.  Vulnerable individuals can find preachers of hate that speak to their own particular demons.  What can be done about this?  Are we willing to curtail free speech, to engage in censorship, to further limit civil rights?  Do we want to ban books, and shut down websites?  If so, that is a decision we will need to make as a society.  In fact, all of us are in this together, as human beings.


If you click on the Muslims Denounce Terrorism logo on the front page of The American Muslim, it will take you to Muslim Voices Against Extremism and Terrorism.  There is a great deal of information available through links on that page, including these very extensive collections:

A Spiritual Jihad Against Terrorism (5 parts), Sheila Musaji

Muslim Scholars Appeal to Christian Scholars for Dialogue and Peace - “A Common Word”, Sheila Musaji

Muslim Violence, Christian Non-Violence:  People in Glass Houses Should Not Throw Words, Sheila Musaji  

Muslim Voices Against Extremism and Terrorism

list of article collections and resources

- Part I & II Fatwas & Statements by Muslim Scholars & Organizations against extremism and terrorism

- Part III Statements & Articles by Individuals

- Part IV A few Quotes A-K, and L-Z

- Part V Muslim Voices Promoting Islamic Non Violent Solutions 

- Part VI Qur’an & Hadith Against Extremism and Terrorism

- Part VII Selective Hearing of Muslim Voices Against Extremism and Terrorism 

- Part VIII Religious terrorism is an oxymoron, Sheila Musaji

- Part IX Throwing Stones at the Qur’an From a Biblical Glass House, Sheila Musaji

- Part X Claim that all terrorists are Muslims ignores history

- Part XI Hirabah - Jihad - Terrorism - Violence - Just War - Crusades article collection and resources from TAM and Loonwatch
- updated 7/6/12


4 MUST SEE VIDEOS: — A British Imam’s Response to the Woolwich Killing - Shaykh Shams Ad Duha gives Khutbah on issues surrounding this brutal murder ***  — A Response to the Woolwich Attack by Nabil Abdul Rashid *** — An ex-British Army officer Sikh Londoner responds to the media and political response to the attack *** —  A Response to the Woolwich Incident by Shaykh Abdalhaqq Bewley ***

A brave woman talked down Woolwich terrorists who told her: ‘We want to start a war in London tonight’

A Murder in Woolwich: Was the brutal south London killing of a British soldier actually an act of terrorism?, H.A. Hellyer

Anti-Muslim reprisals after Woolwich attack:  English Defence League in street battles with police in Woolwich and mosques attacked in apparent acts of revenge

Attacks on Muslims soar in wake of Woolwich murder

Omar Bakri, ‘Godfather of Hate’ Inspired Both UK Jihadist Killer and US Radicals Brian Levin

Birmingham murder may have been racially motivated, say police

Britain’s press corp, journalists, producers, planners and writers: Stop giving a platform to Anjem Chaudary, Muhammad Ali

British police arrest two more over London attack

Anjem Choudary Head of radical Islamist group who knew London knifeman blames UK foreign policy,0,7929839.story

Combatting extremism, Salam Al-Marayati

Abdullah El Faisal, Revolution Muslim, and Islamic Thinkers Society, Sheila Musaji

Four ways for Muslims to confront extremists, Hadia Mubarak

Fox News Responds To London Attack With Islamophobia

Grandfather, 75, ‘tried to fight off killer’ before being stabbed to death outside his home on return from mosque’s evening prayers

How Muslims understand the term “jihad”, Sheila Musaji

How Muslims should respond to terror, Fareed Zakaria

If you want to stop terrorism, Muslims are your best friends, William Saletan

I’m Muslim, and I hate terrorism, Dean Obeidallah

Imams distribute white roses in Woolwich & issue fatwa

Inventing “Jihad”, Asma Afsaruddin

Keep Britain Tidy: If we’re kicking out extremists, let’s start with the EDL

Lessons of the London butchers, Nicholas Wapshott

London Muslim Centre and Tower Hamlets Mayor condemn Woolwich attacks

The Muslim faith does not turn men to terror, Mehdi Hassan

Muslims condemn barbaric killing

Muslims must not apologise for terror - they are no more responsible than the rest of us, Ian Dunt

‘Not in our name’ – British Muslims denounce the Woolwich attack on Twitter

Radical cleric Anjum Chaudhry claims most Muslims would agree with Woolwich attacker

Rethinking the War on Terror: The President’s Speech Falls Short, Elizabeth Goitein and Faiza Patel

Mohammed Saleem and Lee Rigby both victims of senseless, extremist violence, Sheila Musaji

Should MI5 have seen Michael Adebolajo was a likely killer?

Stop giving air time to ‘idiots and nutters’, Warsi tells TV: Minister warns the BBC over fanatics following Woolwich murder

Andrew Sullivan, terrorism, and the art of distortion: Challenging the conventional western narrative on terrorism produces unique amounts of rage and bile. It’s worth examining why, Glenn Greenwald

Terrorism is to Jihad as Adultery is to Marriage,  Shaykh Abu Aaliyah Shurkeel

UK mosques attacked in backlash of Woolwich beheading 

Why are young British men like my brother drawn to Islamic extremism?, Robb Leech

The Woolwich Attack: Should We Feel Terrorised?‎, Myriam Francois-Cerrah

Woolwich Machete Attack: Muslim Religious Groups Condemn Killing

Was the London killing of a British soldier ‘terrorism’?, Glenn Greenwald

What does it feel like to be a Muslim Londoner today? The Woolwich killings and my raw uncensored emotions, Shelina Zahra Janmohamed

Woolwich attack: government convenes emergency meeting – live updates

Woolwich attack: lone wolf and jihadist theories will occupy security forces

Woolwich attack: These killers represent no one but themselves

Woolwich, Boston, and the End of the War on Terror, John Cassidy Bosto,n, and End of the War on Terror : The New Yorker

Woolwich killing: what made two gang members turn to jihad?, Jamie Doward

Woolwich suspect’s friend arrested after appearing on Newsnight