Dateline: 27th September 2013

Soldier 'Beheaded' on Woolwich Street

NOTE: The headline was written as the events in Woolwich were still unfolding. Many more facts are available to us now - and more will become apparent as the trial of his alleged killers takes place in London. This page will be updated throughout.

Britain's streets are no stranger to violence. In an island of millions, jostling alongside each other it would be wondrous indeed if violence didn't occur - whether through isolated emotional happenstance or by the fruits of some sinister desire.

Political and religiously-inspired violence is, of course, also part of our historical weft. Almost three centuries divided the suicide attacks on the London underground in 2005 and the thwarted gunpowder plot of Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators, but the story was largely the same: foreign wars, religious fervour and the radicalisation of young men willing to commit atrocities.

In what appears to be the latest in a long line of such activity, a man - quickly identified as a soldier by witnesses and officialdom - was attacked in broad daylight on a street in Woolwich. Details at this time are still sketchy, but some facts seem to have been established.

Two men driving a silver car drove into a man and then proceeded to exit the car and attack him with knives and machetes. Some witnesses report that the man was beheaded - and some news sources have run with this as fact. Most have elected to tread more carefully and spare squeamish tea-time viewers such gory details of the attack. By any standards, it appears that it was certainly bloody. Here, an eyewitness recounts what he saw.

After killing the man, his attackers dragged his body to the middle of the road and then began speaking to onlookers, still carrying a bloody meatcleaver.

Clearly some dark politico-religious manifesto is at work here, although it is odd to hear an evidently Afro-Caribbean man with a distinct London accent talking about 'our lands' while referring to (presumably) Muslim countries in which our forces are currently entangled.

We await, of course, the inevitable 'blowback' from this incident in which various parties will attempt to make the most of it. To the Islamists, this will be seen as a glorious statement of intent. To certain factions in British political life it will be seen as a chance to demonise Muslims.

Of course, the public nature of the crime, the lack of remorse and the use of it as a vehicle for sermonising sets this apart from most of the murders that occur on a daily basis in the UK, but we note that beheading (assuming this to be the case here) retains an almost iconic power. It is not for nothing that Islamists abroad use the totemic power of beheading in their interminable propaganda videos as proof of their righteousness and conviction.

We are also reminded that actually beheading has been a feature of several recent more 'usual' killings - Jonathan Limani was jailed for such an attack, and the severed head of Gemma McCluskie was found in Regents Canal in another recent incident.

UPDATE: 27th September 2013

Obviously we now know a lot more about this crime than at the time the reports were coming in. We know, for example, that the victim - Drummer Lee Rigby - was not, in fact, beheaded but was subject to a savage machete attack.

Today in court, two men have pleaded not guilty to his murder - despite having been filmed at the scene, boasting about the act to camera within minutes of Rigby's death.
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