LONDON, May 25 – Britain’s intelligence agencies came under fresh scrutiny on Saturday over claims that MI5 tried to recruit one of two Islamists accused of butchering a soldier in London.
Abu Nusaybah, who says he is a childhood friend of murder suspect Michael Adebolajo, was arrested by counter-terrorism police shortly after making the claims on BBC television on Friday night.
He claimed that Adebolajo, one of two men in custody for killing 25-year-old Lee Rigby outside a military barracks on Wednesday afternoon, was approached by MI5 agents after returning from Kenya.
Media reports have said Adebolajo had attempted to travel to Somalia to fight alongside Al-Qaeda-linked Shabaab insurgents but had been turned back and had his passport confiscated by police.
Nusaybah said his 28-year-old friend was changed by his trip to the east African country, where he claimed to have been physically and sexually abused by local security forces during questioning.
On his return Adebolajo was “basically being harassed by MI5, this is something that he specifically mentioned to me” when they spoke six months ago, Abu Nusaybah told the BBC.
He added: “They asked him whether he would be interested in working for them. He was explicit in that he refused to work for them but he did confirm that he didn’t know the individuals.”
Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, 22, remain under armed guard in separate hospitals after being shot by police during their arrest at the scene of the grisly murder in Woolwich, southeast London.
They are reportedly not in a fit state to be interviewed, but their Islamist tirades to passersby at the scene have sparked fears of a backlash against Britain’s Muslim community.
“He claimed that Adebolajo, one of two men in custody for killing 25-year-old Lee Rigby outside a military barracks on Wednesday afternoon, was approached by MI5 agents after returning from Kenya.”
There has been an increase in anti-Muslim incidents following the attack, according to the director of Faith Matters, an organisation which works to reduce extremism.
Fiyaz Mughal said that before the murder, about four to eight cases a day were reported to its helpline. It had recorded about 150 incidents in the last few days, from right across Britain.
“Some of them are quite aggressive, very focused, very aggressive attacks,” he told BBC radio.
Fears of violence at a march by the anti-Islam English Defence League later on Saturday has seen the deployment of hundreds of extra police on the streets of Newcastle in northeastern England.
Three people were arrested on suspicion of posting racist tweets before the protest, which will take place at the same time as a march by opponents of the EDL, Northumbria Police said.