The two killers who beheaded the soldier in a Woolwich street had cropped up in “several investigations” by the security services in recent years. MI5 spooks were last night facing tough questions about how the fanatics who butchered Drummer Lee Rigby in broad daylight had slipped through the net. The two killers who beheaded the soldier in a Woolwich street had cropped up in “several investigations” by the security services in recent years, Whitehall sources revealed.
But MI5 did not suspect that Michael Adebolajo and his accomplice – named locally last night as Michael Oluwatobi Adebowale – were planning an attack, the sources said. In another dramatic development, police revealed a man and a woman, both aged 29, had also been arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to commit murder. The announcement followed raids on six properties yesterday – one in Saxilby, Lincs, another in Romford, Essex, and four in London.
The men shot and arrested after Wednesday’s horrific attack had come to the attention of MI5, MI6 and the police but were not deemed to be planning an attack, Whitehall sources said.
They had been considered “lone wolves”. But MI5 and Scotland Yard’s counter-terrorism officers are trying to find out if they are part of a terror cell that could carry out further atrocities.
One of the killers 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.
Adebolajo, 28, born in Britain to Nigerian parents, has also been linked with the banned Islamist Al Muhajiroun group. He also took part in a pro-Muslim demonstration outside high-security Paddington Green police station six years ago.
Yesterday his sister, Blessing, 32, grinned as she was led from her Romford home by plain clothes cops. She is not thought to have been arrested. Neighbours said Michael was a regular at her second-floor flat and parked his two cars there. Adebolajo’s dad Anthony, 56, a nurse, is believed to own the house raided in Saxilby.
Neighbours said a burka-wearing woman and up to four children lived there behind blinds that were kept closed. Second killer Adebowale is thought to be a former pupil of Kidbrooke School in Greenwich. Two police officers were last night guarding a fifth-floor balcony flat where he lived with his mother Juliet. Like Adebolajo, he is believed to have links to Nigeria, where Islamist fighters Boko Haram are trying to overthrow the government.
Another flat in Greenwich – believed to be the home of Adebowale’s girlfriend – was raided in the early hours of yesterday by policemen armed with machine guns and wearing balaclavas. An older woman and two younger females, thought to be sisters, were led away in handcuffs, along with a teenage boy. Female officers also took a toddler and a baby from the property.
Once the current operations are over, new MI5 chief Andrew Parker and Sir John Sawers – the real-life “M” who runs MI6 – face being hauled before Parliament’s security watchdog.
The Security Service was criticised over the 7/7 London suicide bombings in 2005 after it emerged some of the terrorists were under surveillance which was ended because they were not regarded as major threats.
Adebolajo’s contacts with the banned Al Muhajiroun group would have put him “on the radar” of Special Branch and MI5.
But, because of the large number of Islamist terror suspects in the UK, they can only place suspects under surveillance if they are feared to be actively plotting terror attacks.
The security services are facing budget cuts of around 12% and the Tory-led coalition’s watering-down of anti-terror measures has made it harder to keep tabs on the most dangerous fanatics.
“We are not the Stasi and we don’t have the money for that,” one Whitehall source said yesterday.
Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee will investigate whether any clues that could have prevented Wednesday’s killing were missed.
The committee, chaired in secret by Sir Malcolm Rifkind, will be able to trawl through secret MI5 and MI6 files and summon spooks for a grilling.
Top cops will also face questioning from the Independent Police Complaints Commission.
David Cameron announced the probes yesterday, but stressed the security service’s investigations were top priority, saying “nothing should be done to get in the way of their absolutely vital work”.
He spoke before visiting the Royal Artillery barracks where Drummer Rigby was stationed.
Somalian terrorists Al-Shabaab last night tweeted messages of sympathy for the Woolwich butchers.