Inside Story

Woolwich attack: An act of terrorism?

After a British soldier was hacked to death in the capital London, we analyse the repercussions of this act.

A British soldier seems to have been singled out in a revenge attack against the government’s foreign policy. The soldier was killed in the capital on Wednesday, and one of the suspects said it was because British troops kill Muslims every day.

If you look at the way in which this barbaric act was committed, if you look at what they said their intention was, and if you look at the way in which these two individuals then wanted to be filmed and photographed, and wanted to terrorise people through the media, there is no doubt that this was a terrorist attack.

by Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, minister for Faith and Communities

Witnesses said the soldier was run down by a car, and then attacked and stabbed to death in front of passers-by in the London suburb of Woolwich. He had been wearing a t-shirt with the army charity ‘Help for Heroes’ logo on it.

The murder took place in broad daylight, some 400 metres away from an army barracks. Witnesses said the soldier was hacked to death with weapons including a cleaver.

The two men suspected in the case were later shot as they charged at police. They were placed under armed guard in hospital.

One of the suspects appeared to try to justify what they had done:

“We must fight them as they fight us. An eye-for-an-eye and a tooth-for-a-tooth. I apologise 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,” he said.

Two mosques were set on fire elsewhere in Britain after the murder, fuelling concerns of a backlash against Muslims.

Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron reacted quickly, saying Britain would not give in to violent extremism and terror. Together with London’s Mayor Boris Johnson, he gave this reaction after a hastily convened emergency meeting.

“This country will be absolutely resolute in its stand against violent extremism and terror. We will never give in to terror, or terrorism, in any of its forms. Second, this view is shared by every community in our country. This was not just an attack on Britain and on the British way of life, it was also a betrayal of Islam and of the Muslim communities who give so much to our country,” Cameron declared.

So, is Britain’s prime minister right to call the incident an act of terrorism? And how will this play into concerns about the rise in Islamophobia in the UK?

To discuss this, Inside Story, with presenter Dareen Abughaida, is joined by guests: Steve Park, a terrorism and security expert; Keith Vaz, British Labour MP and chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee; Shiraz Maher head of outreach at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at King’s College London; and Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, Britain’s first ever minister for Faith and Communities.

“I think what we can see from this attack is that it was a very ideological attack, in so far as the men involved attacked symbols of the state. They attacked a soldier, but then didn’t threatened any of the passes-by or bystanders. They really let them go on with the business, and waited there until the police arrived, and then once the police arrived they attacked them.  So it is clear to me, that this was an ideological attack, with the very clear political message, that wanted to target elements of the state, that they felt aggrieved with.”

– Shiraz Maher, International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at King’s College London.