Michael Adebowale and Michael Adebolajo: The two polite young men that met at university who would become known as the bloodied Woolwich murder suspects

Neighbours and acquaintances in east London describe their shock at the events of the past few days

Residents in Macey House, a local authority housing block a few hundred yards from the Cutty Sark, had until this week paid little attention to the two tall, politely earnest young men they had seen coming and going from a fourth-floor flat.

Neighbours knew one of them as Michael, the son of the flat’s tenant and a Manchester United-supporting university student to be found occasionally sipping a soft drink in a nearby Wetherspoons pub, eschewing alcohol in keeping with his Muslim faith.

Yesterday, as police removed sacks of potential evidence from the flat a stone’s throw from the tourist attractions of Greenwich, friends and neighbours were coming to know Michael Adebowale, 22, and his friend – Michael Adebolajo – as the bloodied suspects in the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby.

Adebowale, the man dressed in a heavy green overcoat seen on video footage being confronted with a bloodied carving knife in his hand by cub scout leader Ingrid Loyau-Kennett, yesterday became the second of two men from the attack in nearby Woolwich to be identified.

Like 28-year-old Adebolajo, Adebowale, who may have met his apparent co-conspirator while they attended university, is of Nigerian descent and comes from a Christian background. As in the case of Adebolajo, Wednesday’s events left those who know Adebowale stupefied at the conversion of a football-loving adolescent into an apparent killer.

A schoolfriend, who had known Adebowale for a decade at nearby Kidbrooke School, one of Britain’s first purpose-built comprehensives, told The Independent that he had converted to Islam in the past four years but shown no sign of extremism.

Tony, 23, said: “Mike was a normal kid – football, bit of blow, girlfriends, the normal things. We mucked around together but he got all religious when he was around 18 or 19. He’s not an in-your-face kind of guy so he didn’t really talk about Islam much. I definitely didn’t hear him talk about violence or anything. He was into peaceful stuff. But I haven’t seen him for a couple of years. I don’t know what happened since.”

Neighbours of Adebowale in Macey House said the Manchester United fan was always friendly. One said: “Michael seemed a lovely guy – I am in total shock. I used to see him in the lift and we would joke about football.” In the period since his conversion, it was clear yesterday that Adebowale had become increasingly radical and overt in voicing his beliefs.

Neighbours said he had moved in nearby with a girlfriend, another Muslim convert, in recent months and the pair had been seen distributing Islamist literature in areas adjoining Greenwich.

Neighbours spoke of chanting of the Koran and music coming from the flat. Others spoke of a studiously polite young man who held doors open for mothers pushing prams.

There were also indications that the intense media presence was beginning to colour the recall of some. One man claimed to have been followed by Adebowale and Adebolajo in recent days because he was wearing combat-style trousers.

Another woman, who would only give her name as Karen, claimed she had seen plain-clothes police officers watching the flat two days before the attack. It later transpired they had been local authority housing officers.

The circumstances which brought Adebowale and Adebolajo into each other’s orbits and paved the way to murder remains at the core of the investigation by the Yard’s Counter-terrorism Command. Greenwich University yesterday did not respond to requests for a comment on widespread reports that both men had attended its courses and may have met at the university there.

But it seems likely that similarities in their backgrounds may have played a role in their friendship.

Adebowale’s mother, named locally as Juliet, was said by one neighbour yesterday to be a probation officer. She has also been a director of a computing company based in the New Cross area of south London and a Greenwich-based charity worker. A family friend, who asked not be named, said: “She is a God-fearing woman who is devoted to her children. She will be so devastated by these events.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
SPONSORED FEATURES
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones