Two assailants reportedly killed a man near a military barracks in south London on Wednesday, in a shocking attack that is dominating British press coverage right now. The exact details of what transpired in the Woolwich district are hazy, but here’s what we know so far: Early witness reports describe a brutal assault in which two attackers ran over a man who may have been a soldier, attempted to behead him, and then stuck around to have their photo taken by passersby. When police arrived on the scene, the men brandished their weapons — which may have included a handgun, a machete, and knives — at law-enforcement officials, and both were shot, subsequently arrested, and taken to the hospital.
ITV, a British television station, obtained footage of what appears to be one of the attackers explaining his motivations. In the unconfirmed video, filmed by a bystander who had been traveling by bus to a job interview, a man with bloodied hands carrying a kitchen knife and a meat cleaver says the attack was in retribution for Muslim deaths:
We swear by almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you until you leave us alone. Your people will never be safe. The only reasons we have done this is because Muslims are dying by British soldiers every day. This British soldier is an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.
In the clip, you can hear him add:
I apologize that women had to witness this today but in our lands our women have to see the same. You people will never be safe. Remove your government. They don’t care about you.
The video, which also shows the two attackers shortly after they are shot by police, is below (warning: it’s graphic).
A witness who only gave his first name, James, described a horrific scene. “These two guys were crazed. They were just animals. They dragged him from the pavement and dumped his body in the middle of the road and left his body there,” he told LBC radio.
Nick Raynsford, the member of parliament who represents Woolwich, has described the victim as a soldier, but so far there has not been an official confirmation of the man’s identity. British Prime Minister David Cameron, in Paris for a meeting with French President François Hollande, has said there are “strong indications that this is a terrorist incident.”
The attack is drawing a chorus of condemnations. London Mayor Boris Johnson had this to say on Twitter:
This afternoon’s attack in Woolwich is a sickening deluded and unforgivable act of violence. My thoughts are with the victim and his family
— Boris Johnson (@MayorofLondon) May 22, 2013
The Muslim Council of Britain, responding to the invocation of Allah made by the alleged attacker seen in the ITV video, has also condemned the attack:
This is a truly barbaric act that has no basis in Islam and we condemn this unreservedly. Our thoughts are with the victim and his family. We understand the victim is a serving member of the Armed Forces. Muslims have long served in this country’s Armed Forces, proudly and with honour. This attack on a member of the Armed Forces is dishonourable, and no cause justifies this murder.
We’ll update as we learn more.
Update, 12:35 p.m. 5/22/13: The soldier killed in Wednesday’s attack has been identified by the British Ministry of Defense as Drummer Lee Rigby, 25, of the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. A native of Crumpsall, Manchester, Rigby served as a drummer during the regiment’s ceremonial duties and deployed to Helmand province in Afghanistan in April 2009. Described as a charismatic, humorous man, Rigby — or “Riggers” as he was known to his friends — had taken up a recruiting job at his London base.
“Riggers is what every battalion needs. He was one of the Battalion’s great characters always smiling and always ready to brighten the mood with his fellow Fusiliers,” said Ned Miller, a warrant officer first class and regimental sergeant major of the second fusiliers. “He was an excellent drummer and well respected within the Drums platoon. He was easily identified whilst on parade by the huge smile on his face and how proud he was to be a member of the Drums. He would always stop for a chat just to tell me Manchester United would win the league again.”
Rigby is survived by his two-year-old son, Jack.