Two attackers savagely killed a man believed to be a British soldier just outside an army barracks in an apparent terrorist attack in southeast London today, telling eyewitnesses the killing was "as an eye for an eye ... because Muslims are dying by British soldiers every day."
British Prime Minister David Cameron said there were "strong indications this is a terrorist incident," and senior British officials increased security at all army barracks in London after an emergency meeting in Britain's equivalent to the White House Situation Room.
The two attackers ran over the man in a car then dragged him into the middle of the street in the South London neighborhood of Woolwich. There, in an attack clearly designed to shock this city and country, they hacked him to death with large knives, according to eyewitnesses.
Instead of running from the scene, they began talking to people gathered nearby, wanting to be seen and interviewed. One of the apparent killers asked a passerby to start filming with a camera phone. He spoke calmly, holding a bloody meat cleaver and a smaller knife, his hands stained deep red.
"We swear by almighty Allah, we will never stop fighting you until you leave us alone. Your people will never be safe," the man said calmly, according to ITV News, which first obtained the video. "Tell them to bring our troops back so we -- so you -- can all live in peace."
The killers had asked eyewitness to call the police, apparently to stage some sort of final confrontation. A few minutes after the interview, armed police arrived. The two men started walking toward the police, according to eyewitnesses, and police opened fire, wounding both of them.
The attackers "went for the police with the machetes, knife and handgun," one eyewitness told the BBC. "I don't think they cared."
The attack echoed a case from 2008, when a British man pleaded guilty to plotting to kidnap and behead a British soldier. Despite police saying the incident was isolated, British authorities clearly became concerned about other terror attacks. Cameron cut short a visit to France and called the attack "absolutely sickening" and a "most appalling crime."
"People across Britain, people in every community, I believe, will condemn this attack," he said at a news conference in Paris. "We have had these sorts of attacks before in our country and we never buckle in the face of them."
Numerous eyewitnesses emphasized the brutality of the attack.
"These two guys were crazed. They were not there. They were just animals," a man who identified himself as James told local radio station LBC. "They then dragged him from the pavement and dumped his body in the middle of the road… I think they were proud of what they were doing."
"Total chaos. I don't believe someone has been targeted this way in an area I live in," Lauren Collins told the BBC.
After the attack, a mother of two named Ingrid Loyau-Kennett approached one of the attackers and engaged him in conversation.
"He was not high, he was not on drugs, he was not an alcoholic or drunk. He was just distressed, upset," Loyau-Kennett told ITV News. "He was in full control of his decisions and ready to everything he wanted to do."
Loyau-Kennett can be seen in a photograph calmly talking to the man. He was holding a bloody knife, and she appeared unafraid.
She said she approached the other killer and asked, "'Would you like to give me what you have in your hands?' I did not want to say weapons but I thought it was better having them aimed on one person like me rather than everybody there. Children were starting to leave school, as well."
The attack took place outside of Mulgrave Primary School. Teachers said they at first locked down some of the classrooms, hoping to shield the students from what had happened. But an air ambulance landed inside school grounds, and at least some of the students were clearly petrified as they learned of the news.
"People were all saying we were going to die," one student told the BBC. "There were choppers, police, ambulance around. We were very scared."
This evening, members of the anti-immigrant, right-wing-party English Defense League held a protest near the scene of the attack, throwing stones at British police.
Leading British Muslims were quick to condemn the attack.
"We must come together, isolate those who believe that extremism and violence are acceptable, and work to ensure that they meet the full force of the law," Fiyaz Mughal, the director of Faith Matters, said in a statement. "We as the Muslim community will work against anyone who promotes such hatred."
Outside the nearby barracks -- just a few hundred feet from the attack -- locals placed flowers to honor the victim.
"To the poor man who lost his life," read one note, according to the BBC. "I'm so sorry I couldn't stop these vile animals."
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