Kenya lawyer says London murder suspect freed on British advice

Reuters News
Posted: May 29, 2013 2:50 PM

By Joseph Akwiri

MOMBASA, Kenya (Reuters) - A Kenyan lawyer who in 2010 represented a man suspected of hacking a British soldier to death in London last week said on Wednesday the suspect was freed from arrest in Kenya three years ago on the recommendation of the British High Commission.

Britain's authorities face questions about what they knew about the activities of two Britons of Nigerian descent suspected of butchering Lee Rigby, a 25-year-old veteran of the Afghan war, in broad daylight in a London street.

The two men, one of whom, Michael Adebolajo, was arrested in Kenya in 2010 for allegedly trying to join an Islamist militant group, said they killed Rigby in the name of Islam. The killing has provoked an anti-Muslim backlash in multi-racial Britain.

Wycliffe Makasembo, who was the lawyer for Adebolajo at the time of his 2010 arrest in the tourist town of Lamu, said Kenyan anti-terrorism police detained him and six others when they tried to travel north to Somalia in a speedboat.

They were suspected of attempting to go to train with the al Qaeda-linked Islamist militant group al Shabaab in Somalia, and were presented in a court in Mombasa, south of Lamu.

Makasembo told Reuters that Kenyan police at the time sought more information about Adebolajo, a 28-year-old British-born convert from a Christian Nigerian family, from the British High Commission in Nairobi.

He added the British diplomatic mission replied in a letter to the police that "gave a clean bill of health that Michael Adebolajo had no criminal record or any connection with any criminal or terrorist organization in the world".

"Our own intelligence in Kenya were reluctant to release him, but it is the British High Commission which recommended that the suspect be released," Makasembo said, adding he had seen the letter at the time of the court appearance.

Adebolajo was deported back to Britain and the other six, all Kenyans, were also released without charge.

Asked about the Kenyan lawyer's remarks, a spokesman for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London on Wednesday declined to comment on them specifically.

"We can confirm that a British national was arrested in Kenya in 2010 and the FCO provided consular assistance as normal for British nationals," the spokesman said.

Police shot and wounded Rigby's assailants at the scene of the crime in London.


Sources close to the investigation have told Reuters the attackers were known to Britain's MI5 internal security service. Adebolajo had handed out radical Islamist pamphlets, but neither of the two men was considered a serious threat, sources said.

That has intensified calls for Britain's spy agencies to explain what they knew about the suspects and whether they could have done more to prevent Rigby's killing.

Britain's ITV News channel reported that Adebalajo -- who went by the nickname Mujahid, or warrior, after taking up Islam as a teenager -- and his family were approached by security services MI5 and MI6 who tried to recruit him as an informant.

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It quoted his brother in law, James Thompson, as saying Adebolajo changed dramatically after his detention in Kenya where he said he was tortured and felt abandoned by his government.

Lawyer Makasembo said Kenya was "not to blame" for the London killing. "It is the British themselves who defended him from our law enforcers ... Had he been charged here, the killing of the British soldier would never have occurred," he said.

Police have arrested 10 people in connection to the murder. The second man shot and arrested at the scene of the crime, Michael Adebowale, 22, was discharged from hospital on Monday and moved into police custody where he was arrested on a separate charge of the attempted murder of a police officer.

The murder has galvanized Britain's small but noisy far-right movement, with more than 1,000 protesters shouting "Muslim killers, off our streets" marching through central London on Monday.

(Additional reporting by Maria Golovnina in London; Writing by James Macharia; Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Giles Elgood)