Murder In South London Treated As Terrorist Attack

A man was hacked to death in daylight near a military barracks in Woolwich. A local parliamentarian says the dead man was a British soldier. Media reports say two young men hit the victim in a car, then used a machete and butcher's knives to kill him in the street. One witness reportedly said the assailants stood around, waving knives and a gun, and asked people to film them. The government has called an urgent meeting of its crisis response committee.

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Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron says there are strong indications there was a terrorist attack in London today. A man was hacked to death in the street, close to a military barracks, and he may have been a serving British soldier. NPR's Philip Reeves reports.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: It happened early afternoon, local time, in the South London neighborhood of Woolwich. Witnesses say two young men rammed the victim with a car and then attacked him on the sidewalk. One witness said they killed him with knives and a machete and dumped his body in the middle of the street. The attackers didn't try to escape. They brandished their weapons, including a handgun, and encouraged confused onlookers to film them. One passerby captured this footage, apparently of one of the attackers. It was broadcast by Britain's ITV News.

(SOUNDBITE OF 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.

REEVES: When armed police eventually arrived, the two attackers charged at them, says witness Graham Wilders.

GRAHAM WILDERS: They actually went for the police with the machetes, the knife and the handgun. They didn't really care.

REEVES: The police shot and injured them. A local politician says he was told the dead man was a serving British soldier. This hasn't been confirmed. Speaking in Paris, Britain's prime minister, David Cameron, said his government is urgently seeking the full facts, but there are strong indications this was a terrorist attack.

PRIME MINISTER DAVID CAMERON: People across Britain, people in every community, I believe, will utterly condemn this attack. We have had these sorts of attacks before in our country, and we never buckle in the face of them.

REEVES: Cameron has cut short his visit to France to return to London. Ministers and security chiefs are holding emergency meetings of Cobra, the government's crisis response committee. The full picture is still not clear. Many British military personnel have died in Afghanistan and Iraq in recent years. The worry for the British is that this incident may signal the return of a tactic used years ago by Irish Republican militants: pre-meditated attacks on British soldiers inside England. Philip Reeves, NPR News, London.

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