Q&A: Could MI5 have done more to stop Woolwich attack?


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The Independent Online

Q. Are the attackers “lone wolves” or part of a wider network?

A. Both men mixed in radical Islamist circles, thus they had a wide circle of like-minded people around them. Two others have been arrested and questioned who appear to have social or family connections to the accused. The security agencies are indicating that it is unlikely a wider network was involved; this may change.

Q. Could MI5 have intervened to stop the attack? What information did the security services have?

A. The two men were known to MI5 as being involved on the fringes of militant activities and had been seen in the company of more serious terror suspects. But, it is claimed, they were not suspected of planning anything major. Officials admit they were caught unawares; thus they could not intervene. If this account of events unravels, MI5 will face severe criticism.

Q. Why did the first police on the scene stand back while members of the public spoke to the men? 

A. The response time of the police and their immediate action has been the subject of criticism, claims and counter-claims. The situation which greeted them was extraordinary and somewhat surreal: men who had apparently just butchered another man, speaking relatively calmly to passers-by. Facing dangerous and armed suspects, they waited for firearms teams to arrive.

Q. How did the attackers meet?

A. This is unclear; but it seems they may have met through Islamist gatherings.

Q. Could a “snooper’s charter” have helped prevent the killing?

A. There is no evidence that it would have, and it is not something MI5 is claiming. The view of security officials is that communications intercepts would be of more use to the police in the early stages of an investigation to gather evidence on serious suspects.

Q. What was the precise nature of the contact between the alleged attackers and Omar Bakri Mohammed?

A. Michael Adebolajo attended sermons given by Bakri Mohammed, and among the questions he allegedly asked was when violence was permissible. Bakri Mohammed, who has since been banned from Britain, was once secretly recorded saying beheading was justified in defence of Islam.

Q. Can the failure to prevent the attack be attributed to a lack of resources?

A. More resources would give the security agencies the ability to carry out surveillance on more suspects. But it is still a matter of judgment on who to target. Total security is not possible in a democratic state and it would be unhealthy for a society if people were put under surveillance or harassed simply because they held unpalatable views.