NAIROBI, Kenya — A suspect in the savage killing of a British soldier on a London street was arrested in Kenya in 2010 near the East African country’s border with Somalia, an anti-terrorism police official said today.
Michael Adebolajo was believed to have been preparing to train and fight with the al-Qaeda-linked Somali militant group al-Shabab in 2010 when he was arrested with five others, Kenya’s anti-terrorism police unit head Boniface Mwaniki told The Associated Press.
Mwaniki said that the suspect was then deported. However, Kenya’s government spokesman said he was arrested under a different name, and taken to court before being handed to British authorities.
“Kenya’s government arrested Michael Olemindis Ndemolajo. We handed him to British security agents in Kenya and he seems to have found his way to London and mutated to Michael Adebolajo,” spokesman Muthui Kariuki said. “The Kenyan government cannot be held responsible for what happened to him after we handed him to British authorities.”
Kariuki said Adebolajo was traveling on a British passport, but he could not confirm if it was authentic.
When asked about reports that British embassy officials were involved, a Foreign Office statement said: “We can confirm a British national was arrested in Kenya in 2010. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office provided consular assistance as normal for British nationals.”
British soldier Lee Rigby, 25, was run over and stabbed with knives in the Woolwich area in southeast London on Wednesday afternoon as he was walking near his barracks.
Rigby’s grieving family visited the scene of his murder today, pausing for a few moments in reflection and laying flowers to join the hundreds of floral tributes already left on the spot by wellwishers.
Adebolajo, 28, and Michael Adebowale, 22, are suspected in the killing and remained under armed guard in separate London hospitals after police shot them at the scene.
The gruesome scene was captured by witnesses’ cellphones, and a video picked up by British media showed one of the suspects, with bloodied hands, making political statements and warning of more violence as the soldier lay on the ground behind him.
Hardline Muslim leaders have identified the man in the video as Adebolajo, an Islam convert who allegedly used to take part in London demonstrations organized by British radical group al-Muhajiroun. The group catapulted to notoriety after the Sept. 11 attacks by organizing an event to celebrate the airplane hijackers, and was banned in Britain in 2010.
More than 20 supporters of the group have been arrested over terrorism offenses, including a foiled plot to blow up central London nightclub Ministry of Sound and a bomb attack on London’s Territorial Army base.
Anti-terrorism head Mwaniki rejected allegations that Adebolajo was tortured while in custody, but said the unit would further investigate.
Adebolajo’s friend asserted in a BBC interview that Adebolajo became withdrawn after he allegedly suffered abuse by Kenyan security forces during interrogation in prison there. Mwaniki said at the time, there were no indications of torture or abuse.
Mwaniki said dozens of foreign youth are arrested every year attempting to cross the Kenyan border to join al-Shabab, which claims to be fighting a jihad or holy war against the Somali government and African Union forces.
Al-Shabab controlled Mogadishu from roughly 2007 to 2011. The group still dominates most of southcentral Somalia but has seen its territory reduced after military pushes by African Union and Somali forces.
According to an August U.S. State Department report on terrorism, al-Shabab continues to maintain training camps in southern Somalia for young recruits, including Americans who have traveled there from Somali communities in the United States.
The camps have churned out dozens of bombers who’ve launched attacks in and outside Somalia.
Al-Shabab boasts several hundred foreign fighters, mostly East African nationals and veterans from the Iraqi and Afghanistan wars.
British officials have been on the lookout for security threats originating from Somalia for some years.
In a speech in 2010, Jonathan Evans, then head of Britain’s MI5 domestic security service, warned that “a significant number” of British residents were training in al-Shabab camps to fight in the insurgency there.
“I am concerned that it is only a matter of time before we see terrorism on our streets inspired by those who are today fighting alongside al-Shabab,” he said.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Stuart Osborne, head of Scotland Yard’s counterterrorism command, said officers are pursuing CCTV, social media, forensic and intelligence leads in the investigation. He appealed for anyone who knew the two attackers to contact police with information.
London’s Metropolitan Police arrested three other men suspected of conspiracy to murder late Saturday. The men, aged 21 to 28, were detained by counter-terrorism officers in London. Police did not provide details about the men’s identities.
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