Attackers Hack To Death Man On London Street

Authorities in London are investigating what British Prime Minister David Cameron says is likely a terrorist attack. On Wednesday, two suspects brutally attacked a man near a London military barracks.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

London is no stranger to terrorist attacks. But yesterday's events had a peculiar horror. A British soldier was hacked to death on a London street. in broad daylight. His two attackers did not try to escape. They stuck around and made speeches to bypassers, trying to justify the brutal killing. Here's one attacker, addressing a passerby filming on a cellphone.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I apologize that women had to witness this today. But in our land, our women have to see the same. You people will never be safe. Remove your government. They don't care about you.

MONTAGNE: That footage, which showed a man whose hands are covered in blood, clutching a butcher knife, was shown on Britain's ITV News.

We're joined from London by NPR's Philip Reeves. Good morning.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: So what do we know, as of this morning?

REEVES: Well, you know, it happened in early afternoon, a few hundred meters from a military barracks in south London, in Woolwich. It appears that two attackers drove up onto the sidewalk, and knocked down their victim. They got out of their car, and then hacked him to death in the street. Armed police eventually arrived; and they shot and injured the two attackers, who are now under arrest in hospital under armed guard.

MONTAGNE: And what would the motivation have been? You get a hint of it from what you've just heard, but what have they decided as of today?

REEVES: Well, officials are treating this as an Islamist - act of Islamist extremism. And what the men said to people afterwards, certainly points to that. They reportedly spoke of being fed up of people being killed - of people killing Muslims in Afghanistan.

Bizarrely, as they paraded around afterwards, waiting for the police to come, the attackers told witnesses that no men would be allowed to approach the body of the dead man, but women could. And one of the attackers was confronted by a woman, right there in the street, after this brutal killing. And she says that he talked of starting a war in London. She told him he would lose.

MONTAGNE: And this entire event was big enough that Prime Minister David Cameron cut short a visit to France to come home and address this, along with the government.

REEVES: Yes, that's right. I mean, the government is responding to this in a very forthright way. There's clearly alarm, and a sense of urgency. Mr. Cameron was briefed this morning by his security chiefs and ministers at a meeting of COBRA, the crisis response committee. He went on TV afterwards, saying the people who did this are trying to divide people in Britain, but this would only make them stronger. He also talked of this act as a betrayal of Islam, and of Britain's Muslims - whose representatives, by the way, have strongly condemned this attack.

The authorities are clearly anxious, you know, to ensure that this act doesn't trigger violence in London. Dozens of people last night from a far-right and virulently anti-Islam group were roaming the streets, expressing their anger. And there are clear concerns that this could lead to more trouble.

MONTAGNE: So, you know, you mentioned Britain's Muslim community condemning this attack. There's been pretty strong language, I understand.

REEVES: Yes, they have done so in strong language. There's a debate under way - as there often is anywhere where this kind of thing occurs - about whether Islamic representatives should do more to try to counter the anger and alienation of youths who get involved in this kind of thing.

There's also a lot of concern, you know, among the security services about this particular incident because of its simplicity. You know, it required no bombs; just knives and cleavers that you can buy in a hardware store, used by people who clearly don't care if they're caught, or if they die. The security agencies right now will want to know if there's an organization behind these two guys. A lot of reports are going around right now, saying that these two were already known to the British security authorities.

MONTAGNE: Well, we'll be hearing more about this, I'm sure, in the coming days. NPR's Philip Reeves, in London. Thanks very much.

REEVES: You're welcome.

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