Friend of attack suspect speaks to CNN
03:25 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

NEW: Adebolajo was married to two women and had children, ex-associate says

NEW: He may been tired of "all talk and no action," the former associate adds

Friends say Adebolajo is the cleaver-wielding man seen on a video after attack

He was "very concerned" about what he believed was Muslims' oppression, a friend says

CNN  — 

One was a “nice guy,” who was “friendly and very polite” and “just wanted to help everybody.”

Then there was the “crazed … animal” – someone who’d brutally hack to death a man in broad daylight on the streets of London, then tried to justify it and suggested there was more violence to come.

Two vastly descriptions, for one person: Michael Adebolajo.

While British police have not named any of the men arrested in connection with Wednesday’s gory slaying of British soldier Lee Rigby, one of them didn’t hide his identity at the time. That man – toting a meat cleaver and large kitchen knife in his bloody hands – sought out a cell phone camera minutes after the attack to justify what he and another man allegedly had just done.

“The only reason we killed this man … is because Muslims are dying daily,” he said in a video later aired by CNN affiliate ITN. “This British soldier is an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”

He was not done. The man insisted British people should force their government to remove troops from “our lands” – an apparent reference to largely Islamic countries like Iraq and Afghanistan – or else they’d see more bloodshed.

“You will never be safe,” he said.

Friends, acquaintances and British media identified the man of this video as Adebolajo. He hasn’t been heard from in public since he made those remarks, as Rigby’s mutilated body lay behind him.

He and the 22-year-old with him rushed at armed police when they arrived at the site of the attack on southeast London’s Woolwich neighborhood. Both were wounded by gunfire, and are now under guard in South London hospitals.

Others, though, have spoken about the 28-year-old Adebolajo – explaining who he was and, in some cases, why he allegedly did what he did.

“He was dedicated to Islam and wanted to put himself at its service and defend it,” said one of his former associates in Al-Muhajiroun, a British group of Islamic extremists virulently opposed to UK intervention in Iraq and openly supportive of al Qaeda.

Described as polite, passionate about Islam

A British national of Nigerian descent, Adebolajo was born into a Catholic family, according to this former associate. At least a decade ago, he converted to Islam.

The Guardian newspaper reported that he attended Marshalls Park School, Havering Sixth Form College, then Greenwich University.

A former girlfriend told the Independent that Adebolajo was “really friendly and really polite,” saying she didn’t detect anything that may suggest he was capable of horrific violence.

Syrian cleric Omar Bakri Mohammed, who founded Al-Muhajiroun in the late 1990s, said by phone from Tripoli, Lebanon, that he was acquainted with the man he knew by his Muslim name, Mujahid.

Adebolajo had been particularly impressed that Islam was a brotherhood between all races “whites, black and Arabs,” Bakri said.

He described him as “quiet and shy” and highly respectful.

Adebolajo had two wives, whom he married at the same time during a religious ceremony, said the former associate, who said he was among the attendees. At the time, Al-Muhajiroun frequently conducted marriage ceremonies for followers who were not registered with the British government.

Abu Baraa said he’s been friends with Adebolajo for seven years.

In that time, Baraa came to know him as a “very caring” man who “just wanted to help everybody.”

And Adebolajo, who the ex-associate said had children, was especially passionate in his faith, as well as his desire to protect it and his fellow followers.

“He’s always been very vocal and very concerned about the affairs of Muslims and people being oppressed,” Baraa told CNN. “And he could never tolerate anybody believed to really be oppressed.”

Ex-associate: May have been tired of ‘no action’

Adebolajo attended several talks that Bakri Mohammed gave in London from 2003 to 2004, the radical cleric told CNN. In fact, Bakri Mohammed said Adebolajo was at his side at a number of Al-Muhajiroun protests against the war in Iraq around that time.

One talk Adebolajo attended was at a community center in Woolwich – the neighborhood where Rigby was killed – recalled Bakri Mohammed, who noted the group met in such locations because they were not welcomed in mosques.

The vast majority of British Muslims reject the views of Bakri Mohammed – who hasn’t been allowed back in the United Kingdom since the 2005 bombings of London’s transit system. His group has been barred since that time as well, though it’s continued to operate under different guises. Its leaders drum home the idea that the British government is at war with Islam, but have been careful to cross legal red lines that would implicate them for inciting terrorism.

Bakri Mohammed said that, although they did not have many interactions, Adebolajo stood out because he was a new convert to the religion.

The former associate – who was himself “born again” into Islam, but has since shed his radical views – said that “like all of us, (Adebolajo) had a literal understanding of Islam.”

Even after Bakri Mohammed left England, Adebolajo remained active in Islam circles.

British Muslim radical leader Anjem Choudary told CNN that he knew Adebolajo, noting the suspect attended demonstrations and a few lectures organized by Choudary’s group Al-Muhajiroun.

In fact, an ITN video from April 2007 shows Adebolajo standing behind Choudary at a rally protesting the arrest of men who allegedly made inflammatory speeches inside a mosque.

Two or three years ago, Al-Muhajiroun leaders have said that Adebolajo moved away from the group.

The former associate – who last saw Adebolajo in 2005 – suspects this break might be related to this week’s attack in Woolwich.

“What tends to happen is some of the group’s members start to see Al-Muhajiroun as all talk and no action,” he said. “So they leave the group, and then they do something.”

CNN’s Greg Botelho wrote this story from Atlanta, and CNN’s Paul Cruickshank – CNN’s Terrorism Analyst – reported from London. CNN’s Dan Rivers contributed to this report.