LONDON -- The family of the soldier hacked to death on a London street in an apparent terrorist attack said Friday that they understood the danger he faced while deployed abroad but had not expected him to be in peril at home.
At a tearful news conference, the widow of 25-year-old Lee Rigby said her husband, who had served in Afghanistan, was most proud to be based in southeast London as a ceremonial drummer and machine-gunner with the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. But on Wednesday afternoon, Rigby was set upon by two suspected Islamic militants with butcher knives outside his barracks, a fatal ambush whose savagery has shocked this country.
“When he’s in the UK, you think they’re safe,” said Rebecca Rigby, who was so overcome with emotion at times she could barely speak. “He’s walked up and down that road so many times before.”
“When he’s in [Afghanistan], you come to terms with it. You know there’s dangers,” added Ian Rigby, the slain soldier’s stepfather. “You don’t expect something like that on your doorstep. It’s very difficult.”
PHOTOS: British soldier slain on London street
The grieving family’s comments, broadcast from the news conference in the greater Manchester area of northern England, came as new images surfaced that appeared to show the moment when Lee Rigby’s two alleged attackers were shot by police shortly after his killing.
In video obtained by the Daily Mirror tabloid, one suspect, identified in media reports as 28-year-old Michael Adebolajo, apparently charges toward officers before crumpling to the ground, presumably from a bullet fired by police. His alleged accomplice, 22-year-old Michael Adebowale, falls a few seconds later. Several gunshots can be heard in the video.
The two suspects remain in separate hospitals under armed guard. Both have wounds that are not life-threatening and are listed in stable condition, officials said.
Police also arrested a man and two women Thursday on suspicion of conspiracy to commit murder in connection with the case; the two women were released Friday morning without charge, Scotland Yard said. The 29-year-old man remains in custody.
Adebolajo was described in news reports as a British citizen of Nigerian descent who grew up in a devout Christian household but converted to Islam about 10 years ago and eventually became radicalized.
A man identified as Adebolajo was caught on video after Wednesday’s attack brandishing knives and declaring Rigby’s death to be in retribution for British military killings of Muslims in foreign lands. The man’s hands are soaked with blood.
British news outlets reported that Adebolajo and Adebowale had come to the attention of security agencies but were not judged to pose an imminent threat. Security analysts say that thousands of people suspected of harboring extremist views are on authorities’ watch list, but only a fraction can be tracked closely at any one time, with priority given to those believed linked to networks such as Al Qaeda or to be plotting major attacks. Preventing “lone-wolf” operations of the kind that Wednesday’s assault may have been is difficult.
The incident has raised fears not just of copycat violence but of a backlash against Muslims in Britain. Hours after the killing, members of the far-right English Defense League converged on the attack site to rally against Islam, clashing with riot police. Several mosques have reported vandalism and other abuse since Wednesday’s slaying.
Religious and political leaders have called for tolerance and restraint.
“This attack on a member of the armed forces is dishonorable, and no cause can justify this murder,” Ibrahim Mogra, an imam with the Muslim Council of Britain, said Friday after a meeting with Christian leaders, including Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. “This crime has heightened tensions throughout the country.
"The Muslim Council of Britain calls on our communities, Muslim and non-Muslim, to come together in solidarity to ensure the forces of hatred do not prevail,” he added.
In Woolwich, where Rigby was stationed, dozens of bouquets of flowers festooned the sidewalk near where he died.
PHOTOS: British soldier slain on London street
His family described him as a vibrant, well-loved young man and a doting father to his 2-year-old son, Jack. Ian Rigby said that his stepson’s last text message to his mother read: “Thank you for supporting me all these years. You’re not just my mum; you’re my best friend. Good night. I love you loads.”
“We would like to say ‘Good night, Lee,’” Ian Rigby said. “Rest in peace, our fallen soldier.”
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