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Black, British and radical

RADICAL: Suspect Michael Adebolajo at a protest in 2007

WHEN BBC Political Editor Nick Robinson described the suspected killers of soldier Lee Rigby as being “of Muslim appearance” when news of the Woolwich attack first broke, the viewers’ first thoughts would have painted a man from South Asia or the Middle East in traditional Islamic dress.

But at the heart of this tragic story are two British Africans, Muslim converts Michael Adebolajo, 28, and Michael Adebowale, 22, believed to be of Nigerian heritage.

In the footage, which has been broadcast around the world, Adeboloja can be seen proclaiming in an English accent: “We swear by almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you.”

The pair who looked and sounded like any other black man on the streets of the capital - have become the new faces of Islamist extremism.

Adebolajo, who grew up in Romford, Essex, and Adebowale, of south London, were to all appearances good-natured young men from Christian backgrounds.

They converted to Islam, before gravitating to the more extreme elements of the faith, denounced by the majority of Muslims who argue that violence has no place in their religion.

But one does not need to look too far into history to discover that Adebolajo and Adebowale are not isolated cases.


Bromley-born Richard Reid earned the name “the shoe bomber” after he attempted to detonate explosives packed into shoes on an American Airlines flight heading from Paris to Miami in 2002.

Reid, whose father was of Jamaican heritage, is believed to have converted to Islam while in prison serving a sentence for petty theft.

Umar Islam, born Brian Young, was one of eight plotters found guilty of a foiled trans-Atlantic airplane suicide bombing in 2006. The son of a West Indian train driver, Islam was believed to be a Rastafarian before converting to Islam in 2001.

Then there was Jamaican-born Germaine Lindsay who was one of the 7/7 suicide bombers that killed 26 people on a Piccadilly line train. Also on this list is Kibley Da Costa who was known as Abdul Khaliq after converting. He was jailed in 2007 for helping run terror training camps in New Forest and Berkshire. According to a report on conversions to Islam by the University of Cambridge’s Centre of Islamic Studies, people of African Caribbean backgrounds form the largest group of Islamic converts. This has led some experts to ask whether this group is more vulnerable to radicalisation.

TERRORIST: 7/7 suicide bomber Germaine Lindsay

Community activist Lee Jasper told The Voice that many young black men were introduced to radicalism in Britain’s prisons and young offenders institutes.

These youngsters are seven times more likely to be stopped and searched, three times more likely to be arrested and five times more likely to be imprisoned than their white counterparts, even when offences are similar, according to a 2010 report published by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission.


“They are being converted to commit criminality or terror by Islamic extremists,” Jasper continued. “Young African Caribbean men are easily converted because they feel socially alienated by racism and crippling unemployment. Islamists are using the faith of Islam to explain why they are experiencing racism and prejudice from white Christian Anglo-Saxons.”

Writing in The Guardian, Labour MP David Lammy, who lost a friend in the 7/7 bombings, echoed some of Jasper’s views. “Young men, perhaps already convinced of being outcasts, are intoxicated by teachings that not only entrench this difference further but demand that they despise the society they leave behind.”

But Lammy additionally highlighted that groups like the far right EDL had similarly indoctrinated young white men and also pointed to the fact that violent street gangs had sucked up boys as young as 10 in inner cities.

“It is not unreasonable to ask why British males of a certain age and demographic but from all backgrounds almost exclusively provide the talent pool for our legions of racists, football hooligans, rioters, gang members and terrorists,” Lammy wrote.

Sebastien Feve, from the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, says radical ideology attracts supporters as it provides a “simple answer to interpreting the complex problem.”

“[The ideology] frames a vision of the world,” Feve explained.

“There is no single pathway to radicalism. There are permissive factors and people fall into extremism for all sorts of reasons for social, personal or economic grievances.”


One of the insights gained from the incident in Woolwich, has been the widespread belief that “lone wolf” terrorists without any reported connection to organised terrorism groups such as al-Qaeda were training themselves.

But, Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens, from the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at King’s College London, is of the opinion that these two were acting alone.

“I think it’s most likely they became radicalised through the internet and geared themselves up to act.”

These methods of decentralised radicalism are much harder for the authorities to monitor and track, as there is not often the same communication trail.

Furthermore such lone vendettas tend to be more spontaneous as the specific details about plots are usually held by no more than a couple of people.

HORROR: Adebolajo after the bloody attack

Operation Black Vote (OBV) director Simon Woolley described the Woolwich murder as “barbaric” and called for the black and Muslim community to unite in the face of this adversity.

“The barbaric image of a blood dripping sadistic killer who is both black and Muslim is beamed around the world. For some, white society’s worst nightmare. The simplistic imagery couldn’t be worse for the black and Muslim community,” Woolley wrote on the OBV website.


“The black and Muslim communities must be resolute in both our condemnation of this murderous act, but also be clearly focused on the agenda of confronting and tackling race and social inequality.”

The OBV boss called on politicians to develop policies to improve the socio-economic wellbeing of the black community to deter African Caribbean people from extremism.

“If politicians want to help ensure we never have these types of atrocities again we must ask the question: what is the journey of young Caribbean and African Christians who turn to radicals and in this case violent Muslims?”

He added: “In the recent past, this conversation has only manifested itself in gang warfare with the infamous ‘Brixton Boys’ or the ‘SMS crew’. Now it’s different; they are not killing each other, but rather a cold-blooded execution of a British soldier.”


Prime Minister David Cameron has revealed plans to gag Muslim hate preachers to prevent the spread of “messages of poison” in schools, colleges, prisons and mosques.

Cameron will head a new Tackling Extremism and Radicalisation Task Force (TERFOR) made up of senior politicians, MI5, police and moderate religious leaders.

The task force will look at a number of measures including banning extremist clerics from being given a platform to incite potentially vulnerable followers to their cause.

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