“I think that there’s a tendency...when we talk about terrorists, when we talk about people who are engaged in violent radicalism that they are, they’ve been brainwashed into it or you’re looking for unusual psychological explanations. So people are saying ‘Oh they must have a particular personality profile or particular psychological disposition’. But what we find when we talk to them is that they are surprisingly ordinary individuals who very easily could’ve gone down different routes.”
Professor Andrew Silke – Programme Director for Terrorism studies, University of East London Michael was born at King’s College Hospital in London in December 1984. His parents, hard working Nigerian immigrants, one a social worker, the other a nurse, brought their eldest son up in their Christian faith. They read the Bible by candlelight and went to church every Sunday. The family lived in Romford in an area bordering Essex and London. One of his school friends would later become a soldier and die in Iraq.
Michael was bright and school photos show a smiling and seemingly confident boy. But Michael always struggled with authority and was often disobedient. He got into trouble. And not just with the teachers. Local police were aware of him. Some reports suggest he was involved in stealing mobile phones: And, chillingly, in light of his later actions, with threatening people with knives.
His family were so concerned by his behaviour they moved to Lincolnshire hoping he would lose contact with his criminal connections. But it was perhaps already too late for Adebolajo: “There is a correlation between the gang violence and violent extremism and violent radicalisation. And when you look at the messages of Abu Hamza, Abdullah el Faisal, and who they were targeting, they were targeting individuals from these sorts of backgrounds.” Dr Abdul Haqq Baker – former chairman of Brixton mosque and founder of STREET UK.
Michael returned to south-east London and in 2003, went to Greenwich University. Before the end of his first year, he converted to Islam. He would not complete his degree.
Another key event that year was the Iraq invasion. He watched with disgust the West’s use of overwhelming military force – the strategy known as ‘Shock and Awe’. “My colleagues who knew Michael Adebolajo, they said (he) was a very polite individual when they first knew him, very articulate in his speaking. However when you look at the protagonists and those who he was associating and aligning himself with, he was aligning himself with these individuals because they were talking about current grievances and double standards of our own society and the West in relation to the Muslim world.” Dr Abdul Haqq Baker,
Michael started associating with preachers many considered radical and extremist. Some of them, like Omar Bakri Mohammed, were later considered such a threat that, in his case, they would be refused re-entry to the UK. And the group he lead, al-Mahajiroun, that Michael joined, would later be banned under counter-terrorism laws. A common belief amongst such radicals was that non-violent strategies were not effective. “There was an incident that occurred in Tooting...where Michael Adebolajo saw an individual wearing a Palestinian scarf, a drunk individual, and he took issue with that and attacked the individual. And his justification was that he’s making a mockery of the religion. So that proceeded what happened in Woolwich.” Dr Abdul Haqq Baker.
On 7 July 2005, four young British Muslims suicide bombed London in an attempt to replicate 9/11. In November 2006, during a protest at the Old Bailey over the trial of a Muslim who had called for another 9/11, Michael assaulted a police officer. Michael was given a 51 day jail sentence. In 2007, with al-Muhajiroun rebranded as Muslims Against Crusades, cameras captured him standing in its ranks behind extremist preacher, Anjem Choudary. Michael was no longer the smiling boy of his youth. He was sullen and serious. He was also now a father. In total, he would father six children from three different mothers. But after 2009, Michael ideologically split from even the extreme views of Anjem Choudary and his group.
Michael wanted to live under Sharia Law and be a soldier of Allah. He didn’t believe either was possible in his birth country. Around this time, Adebolajo was contacted by the British security services. They were desperate to build up their informant networks. He refused Certain, in his mind at least, that he was a soldier; Michael became one of the hundreds of British citizens who leave to fight in countries like Iraq and Syria. In autumn 2010, Michael’s destination of choice, was Somalia. “Somalia essentially is an ungoverned state. There (are) big lawless areas and terrorists who have an affinity to the Al-Qaeda ideology have set up (there). The name (Michael) chose for himself when he converted didn’t exactly do himself any favours. He chose the name ‘Mujahid Abu Hamza’ literally ‘one who engages in Jihad’. Vikram Dodd – Crime Reporter, the Guardian But before he could begin to fight, he was picked up by the Kenyan authorities, and deported.
He arrived back in London in November 2010 having failed to become a fighter. “This...was a new source of frustration. It may also had been a source of embarrassment. He may have told people, ‘I’m going overseas to be a part of Jihad, I’ve been talking about it for years and years and years and now finally I’m actually going to do something’. And now, he was going to have to return having achieved nothing...bearing in mind we’re talking about young men, pride matters.” Professor Andrew Silke.
It is claimed that after his return, he was again approached by the security service, MI5. But Michael’s mind was made up. He was completely committed to Jihad. One witness remembered him around this time ‘evangelically hectoring’ shoppers coming in and out of WH Smith, raging over the fighting in Afghanistan and Syria. The day before Lee’s last, at 14:13, store cameras capture Michael as he bought a five-piece set of kitchen knives and a knife sharpener from an Argos shop in Lewisham, South London.
On the day of the attack, Michael remembered he needed to fill up his car. But when he went to pay, he realised he had no money. So, he left his phone as security. And, almost unbelievably considering what he planned to do, he later returned to pay for the petrol.
The two Michaels met up in Adebolajo’s flat in South London. At around 13:00, they got into a Vauxall Tigra and drove towards Woolwich. Once there, they simply drove around the barracks looking for a soldier to attack. “Islam clearly defines the parameters for warfare and the environment for warfare and the circumstance around which it’s enacted. And yet again you’ll see that extremists will bring these texts and distort them to justify that while he was on home ground the fact that he was a soldier and served in Iraq therefore gave extended legitimacy for them to carry out that attack.” Dr Abdul Haqq Baker, as Michael Adebojo explained after the attack “We must fight them as they fight us, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”