LONDON – Britain's government is setting up a new terrorism task force to tackle radical preachers and extremism, officials said Sunday, days after suspects apparently linked to extremist Islamist activists brutally killed a British soldier in a London street.
Home Secretary Theresa May said the group will look at whether new powers and laws are needed to clamp down on religious leaders and organizations who promote extremist messages and who target potential recruits in jails, schools and mosques.
Thousands of people are potentially at risk of being radicalized in Britain, May told the BBC.
"We need to look across institutions like universities, whether there is more work we can be doing in prisons," she said in the television interview.
The force will include senior ministers, London's police chief and the head of the MI5 domestic security service, and is expected to meet within the next few weeks.
The move came after 25-year-old British soldier Lee Rigby was run over and stabbed with knives in the Woolwich area in southeast London on Wednesday afternoon as he was walking near his barracks.
The two men suspected of killing the soldier, Michael Adebolajo, 28, and Michael Adebowale, 22, remained under armed guard in separate London hospitals after police shot them at the scene.
The gruesome scene was captured by witnesses' cellphones, and a video picked up by British media showed one of the suspects, with bloodied hands, making political statements and warning of more violence as the soldier lay on the ground behind him.
Hardline Muslim leaders have identified the man in the video as Adebolajo, an Islam convert who allegedly used to take part in London demonstrations organized by British radical group al-Muhajiroun. The group catapulted to notoriety after the Sept. 11 attacks by organizing an event to celebrate the airplane hijackers, and was banned in Britain in 2010.
Omar Bakri Muhammad, a former al-Muhajiroun leader and radical Muslim preacher, has told The Associated Press that Adebolajo is a Nigerian who was born and raised in Britain. He said Adebolajo attended his London lectures in the early 2000s, but added he had not stayed in touch with the suspect since then. Bakri fled London and resettled in Lebanon in 2005.
British media reported Sunday that Adebolajo was arrested in 2010 in Kenya, where he was accused of leading a group of youths trying to join al-Shabab, a terrorist group in neighboring Somalia linked to Al Qaeda.
The Sunday Times and the Sunday Telegraph both reported that Adebolajo appeared in a court in Kenya in late 2010 alongside other young alleged radical Islamists. He was remanded at a local police station and eventually deported to Britain, the reports said.