Upbringing in Romford
Jeremiah is two years younger than his brother. Both men were born in Romford, on the outskirts of London.
Jeremiah: We were brought up Christian. My parents kind of took great care in not only integrating us wherever we went, you know, in Romford, but just in our education, in terms of you know, making things pleasant for us. So I would say it was a happy upbringing. He was older, bigger than me, and it was good to have the protection, the older brother figure. He was protective. He was feisty. I remember getting in a few fights. That stopped when we got older, grew a brain and realized but yeah, he was a good brother to have, I guess.
Conversion to Islam
Adebolajo showed an interest in Islam at around sixteen and converted during his first year at university.
Jeremiah : It was a shock, certainly, yeah. I’m not sure how heavily my parents were involved in really speaking to him about it. I spoke to him a lot about it. I was quite staunchly Christian and I didn’t want him to become a Muslim at first. The tidy narrative is to believe that he was a troubled teen and this is the result of that troubled youth, but that’s not the case. I think rather than the sensationalist tale of radicalization, the conveyor belt, I think that the video post Woolwich is clear in speaking about my brother’s motives. I think a look to foreign policy would tell you more than speaking to Omar Bakri Muhammad. I think looking around the Muslim world, looking at what’s happening to Muslims in this country will tell you more about my brother’s motives than speaking to Anjem Choudary.
Arrest in Kenya
In 2010, Adebolajo went to Kenya in order to travel to neighboring Somalia to join an Islamist group. He and a group of five others were arrested as they tried to cross the border.
Jeremiah: The guards came with Kalashnikovs, they pointed them at my brother and some other individuals, they searched them, they took their money, which they never returned. At this point, they were making threatening remarks and they had driven him quite far into a forested area. I do remember my brother telling me you know, he was worried at this point that they might take extra judicial measures and just shoot him dead then. But they eventually reached a shack, they put them there, they did some questioning, they saw some passports and they began to ask my brother about his nationality, where is he from, his name, and yeah, they were taking a keen interest in my brother. He was thrown into a cell with excrement everywhere, shared with many, many people. They certainly didn’t care for the rights of the Muslim women there, they didn’t separate the men and the women. He was abused in terms of, they roughed him up, they threatened him with violence, they certainly you know, what I would call torture. I mean, I would call it torture in that they were tormenting and doing as much damage as they could, knowing their limits, and they did know their limits, because they found the British passport pretty early. And when he asked for the British Consulate, they replied quite confidently that the British already knew that he was there.
Contact with Britain's MI5
After he returned from Kenya, Britain’s security service, MI5, approached Adebolajo to become an informant.
Jeremiah: They began to, what I would say, harass him. They kept on calling him, they kept on asking him to meet, they kept on going to his house, and really disrupting his life. Whereas he just wanted to get on with his life. He’s got family, he’s a family man. But they weren’t allowing that. And they were putting a lot of pressure for him to cooperate with them in one way or another. At first my brother would be cooperative in that he met them and told them that he doesn’t want involvement with them, he’s not up to anything strange. So leave him along, basically, which they seemed inclined not to do. They tried to get information and they tried to use my brother’s time in Kenya as, I guess, leverage, to get him to cooperate.
Al Jazeera: And the leverage being that he possibly could face charges for something?
Jeremiah: I mean, the implicit threat is that either he cooperates or they’re going to make his life very difficult.
Jeremiah Adebolajo and British security services
Jeremiah was also approached by Britain’s security services while he was living in Saudi Arabia.
Jeremiah: I was approached one summer. I was escorted to a hotel and told that the British embassy would like to see me. When I walked into the lift to go up to one of the floors, I was searched, frisked and I was then taken to a room. Outside of that room I was searched again and then I met two men who introduced themselves as members of the British security services.
Al Jazeera: And what did they say they wanted?
Jeremiah: At first they weren’t clear. They were asking about my time in the Middle East, how I am, what do I do, is it boring. They started off with the small talk, the usual small talk. And then they moved on to asking me about some people I knew in countries like Yemen and elsewhere. They showed me some pictures of individuals who I knew from England and individuals I knew from other parts of the world. They were suggesting that these people were in some way interesting to the security services and that I should tell them everything I knew about them.
Al Jazeera: And at that point you had no connection with anybody that would be deemed involved in terrorism or extremism?
Jeremiah: Apparently I did. Apparently some of the people I’d been knocking about with were interesting to the security services for one reason or another.
Al Jazeera: And did they ask about your brother?
Jeremiah: Eventually they did. I mean, these meetings continued. They met me and they implied that if I didn’t meet them, I would soon find myself on a plane back to England, having lost my job and this was reason enough for me to decide to meet them again.
Al Jazeera: Was it implied threat or very clear threat?
Jeremiah: At first it was quite implicit in that they didn’t say why I would be on the plane, but they suggested to me that, “Look, unless you cooperate with us, you’re going to be on a plane because your hosts here in the Middle East don’t want you here unless we say so.” That was implicit. At later meetings they were quite explicit in their threats.
Al Jazeera: And when they eventually got ‘round to asking about your brother, what were they interested in?
Jeremiah: He took me into a room, he introduced himself as a member of the security services. And he began to question me very directly, for the first time, about my brother. He wasn’t interested in the cases that had passed in terms of the individual in Yemen. He wasn’t interested in anybody from Pakistan. He was interested specifically in my brother’s case. He said that he had been assigned to my brother and he had been doing many dealings with my brother, he had been contacting him, he had been the one who had been harassing him. And that I was to take a number and tell my brother to contact them and to stop being so elusive.
Jeremiah: They were interested in who he knew, why he went to Kenya, what connection he had to some of the people they had been questioning me about. That was their main concern. They wanted to know, without saying it explicitly, they said, you know, they wanted to know whether he was somebody to worry about.
We took very different approaches to how we dealt with the security services. He wouldn’t cooperate with them. He didn’t want to know, he didn’t want to speak to them. And I had decided that you know, when they wanted to speak to me, I would speak to them. I regret that now, in that I don’t believe that fulfilled any purpose.
I think at this point they were frustrated that they weren’t able to keep tabs on everywhere my brother went, they weren’t able to keep tabs on everybody he spoke to, and they certainly don’t have the resources to watch him 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I believe. And so they decided that they would try to get to him through me. They approached me and asked me to make him cooperate and make him speak. I said to them, “You’re wasting your time.” I said to them, that, “You’re wasting your time in bothering me, you’re wasting your time in bothering my brother. You’re not going to change anything, you’re not going to add anything. There is no extra information that we can give you. And they obviously didn’t take the hint.
There was a very explicit threat made. They showed me some federal papers from America. A court order, asking for a British citizen to be taken, to be extradited for training for terrorist purposes. They suggested that something I had done in the Middle East – I went with some friends, we went to the desert, we were going to go shooting in the desert. They suggested, and they stopped me, the security services stopped me. They got wind of it, which is evident of the fact that they were, you know, that I was under heavy surveillance. They got wind of the fact that I was going to go to the desert with some friends and we were going to go shooting. They suggested I don’t do that. When I got to England they slid these papers to me and said that this man is going down for life imprisonment and they would be very interested, the Americans, in your case, because anyone playing with guns now, in the Middle East, could be interpreted to be preparing for terrorist acts and this would mean, in turn, that they’re preparing to harm American interests and that the danger was that I could be extradited, imprisoned in America for life, under the same charges as the individual they showed me the confidential papers of.
Al Jazeera: So they were threatening you with terrorism charges?
Jeremiah: Yeah, they were threatening me with terrorism charges. Yeah. Quite explicitly this time.
Reasons for the attack
Jeremiah says he understands why his brother killed Lee Rigby.
Jeremiah: A wise man once said that for a violent action, we have a violent reaction. And I believe that that statement’s very true. Foreign policy, things that have been going on in Afghanistan and Somalia and Yemen and Iraq and many of the Muslim countries have had, and I believe will continue to have, an adverse affect on the safety of anybody who’s living in Britain, both Muslim and non-Muslim. He didn’t attack the civilians walking past, he didn’t attack the man who made the video, who shot the video. But he specifically targeted a member of the armed forces. He was a military man, Lee Rigby, and my brother’s intention, I think, was very clear. And I think that sent a statement that we can easily talk about condemnation. We can make this whole debate about let’s condemn a very violent act or we can talk about the causes, the effects and the prevention of these kinds of attacks, because nobody wants to see attacks on the streets of Britain and I think that it’s key to talk about, “How do we prevent these things in the future?” Most young, British Muslims certainly understand the grievances he was speaking about in the video. As to justifiable, tshis is something for the scholars and I think it’s obvious to most people.