Attack in Woolwich: expert analysis by Matthew Henman (JTIC)

Matthew Henman, a senior analyst at IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Centre (JTIC), has reflected on yesterday’s tragic events that unfolded in Woolwich. Matthew writes…

“While it remains too early to definitively attribute a motive for the attack, Prime Minister David Cameron stated several hours after the incident that there were “strong indications” that it was terrorism-related.

“The potential militant Islamist angle was underlined by several aspects of the attack, firstly in that it appeared to specifically target a UK soldier near the Royal Artillery Barracks in Woolwich, London with the attackers making no attempt to attack any other person in the vicinity.

“The subsequent claim that the victim was killed specifically because he was a soldier may also indicate that the attack was pre-planned.

“The fact that the attackers made no attempt to flee the scene, combined with their interaction with bystanders, may indicate an effort to maximise publicity of the attack and to ensure that their message was recorded and publicised.

“Finally, the reported attempt to attack the police responders may well have been in the expectation that they would be shot dead, perhaps with the aim that they would thereby be considered martyrs within the wider militant Islamist community.

“As of early 23 May, though, there has been no indication of any links between the attackers and an established group, militant Islamist or otherwise.

Yesterday's tragic episode saw a member of the Armed Forces killed in Woolwich

Yesterday’s tragic episode saw a member of the Armed Forces killed in Woolwich

“While media reports have claimed that one of the suspects had previously attempted to travel to Somalia to join militant Islamist group the Shabab, this remains completely unconfirmed.

“Similarly, media conjecture billing the attackers as self-radicalised ‘lone wolves’ cannot be seriously considered until further details regarding the attackers’ backgrounds and profiles can be established.”

Background to yesterday’s events

The IHS Communications Team writes…

“A man, subsequently confirmed by authorities as an off-duty member of the United Kingdom Armed Forces, was attacked and killed by two assailants in the Woolwich area of South East London on 22 May.

“The attackers reportedly drove a vehicle into the victim before exiting the vehicle and repeatedly stabbing him with a series of edged-weapons – variously described in reports as a collection of meat cleavers, butcher’s knives and a machete – with unconfirmed reports stating that the victim was beheaded.

“Following the attack, the assailants remained at the scene but did not attack anyone else. When armed police arrived approximately 20 minutes later, the attackers reportedly made to attack the police before being shot and wounded, and were later taken into custody.

“While waiting for the police to arrive, the two attackers interacted with bystanders, inviting them to take photographs of them and answered questions, reportedly in a calm and lucid fashion according to eyewitnesses.

Prime Minister David Cameron

Prime Minister David Cameron

“An eyewitness video from the scene showed one of the attackers reciting what may have been a pre-memorised statement. Speaking with a London accent, he said: “We swear by almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you. The only reason we have done this is because Muslims are dying every day. This British soldier is an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”, adding: “You people will never be safe. Remove your Government. They don’t care about you… Get rid of them. Tell them to bring our troops back so you can all live in peace.”

“The implied reference to UK participation in the United States-led war on terrorism was underlined in a statement given by an eyewitness, quoted in a 23 May Reuters report: “He said: ‘I killed him because he killed Muslims and I am fed up with people killing Muslims in Afghanistan.'”

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