LONDON (Reuters) - British counter-terrorism police on Saturday arrested three people suspected of involvement in the killing of a soldier hacked to death in a London street by two men shouting Islamist slogans.
The killing of the soldier in what the government said appeared to be a terrorist attack has led to angry protests against radical Islam and fears of a possible anti-Muslim backlash.
Michael Adebolajo, 28 and Michael Adebowale, 22, are under armed guard in hospital after being shot and arrested by police on suspicion of murder on Wednesday.
The three men arrested on Saturday are suspected of conspiracy to murder. London police said two of them were hit by electric Taser guns, but neither needed hospital treatment.
Eight people have now been arrested in connection with the murder on Wednesday of 25-year-old Lee Rigby, who served in Afghanistan. No one has been charged.
Witnesses said Adebolajo and Adebowale used a car to run down Rigby outside Woolwich Barracks in southeast London and then attacked him with a meat cleaver and knives, before being shot by police.
The pair told bystanders they were acting in revenge for British wars in Muslim countries.
French police were investigating whether the stabbing of a soldier patrolling a business district west of Paris on Saturday was a copycat crime. The soldier was injured and his attacker fled.
French President Francois Hollande said the exact circumstances of the stabbing were still unclear, although police were “exploring all options”.
Police in the city of Newcastle, northeast England, said up to 2,000 people took part in a demonstration organized by the far-right English Defence League on Saturday. Demonstrators shouted “RIP Lee Rigby” and “Whose streets? Our streets?”
Hundreds of people attended a rival protest by an anti-fascist group in the city. Police said both events passed off without major incident.
There have been questions over the role of the British security services in the months leading up to Rigby’s killing after uncorroborated allegations intelligence officers tried to recruit one of the men suspected of killing the soldier.
A man identified by the BBC as Abu Nusaybah told its flagship news program “Newsnight” on Friday that Adebolajo was approached six months ago to see if he would work for them as an informant. He said Adebolajo had refused.
Police said a 31-year-old man was held at 4:30 p.m. ET on Friday on “suspicion of the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism”. Police said the arrest was not linked to the soldier’s murder.
A source close to the investigation told Reuters earlier this week that both men suspected to have attacked the soldier were known to Britain’s MI5 domestic security service. However, neither man was thought to pose a serious threat.
Prime Minister David Cameron has said a parliamentary committee will investigate the security services’ role.
In his BBC interview, Nusaybah said Adebolajo had been arrested and questioned in Kenya last year. This assertion was dismissed by the Kenyan government as a “fairy tale”. A British Home Office (interior ministry) spokesman said it never commented on security matters.
A Kenyan government spokesman said it had no record of Adebolajo ever visiting the east African country and described Nusaybah as an “imposter and a charlatan”.
Additional reporting by Drazen Jorgic in Nairobi and Nicolas Bertin in Paris; Editing by Pravin Char