LONDON – One of the suspects in the brutal murder of a soldier in Britain was arrested in Kenya three years ago and questioned over alleged links to Islamist insurgents, the Kenyan government confirmed Sunday.
Michael Adebolajo was detained in 2010 but was handed over to British intelligence agents and deported because there was insufficient evidence to charge him, authorities said.
“He was arrested under a different name, a fake name,” government spokesman Muthui Kariuki said. “We did not process him; he was handed over to the local MI5.”
A Kenyan anti-terrorism police officer said Adebolajo was arrested over links to al-Shabab insurgents. The al-Shabab are an al-Qaida-linked group fighting in Somalia, but with ties in neighboring nations, including in Kenya’s Indian Ocean coastal region.
The officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Adebolajo had been in contact with other suspects whom Kenyan police were tracking in the port of Mombasa.
“There was no evidence to nail him, so he was released. He was interrogated both in Mombasa and Nairobi,” the officer said.
The Kenyan government rejected allegations that he had been physically assaulted while being held.
On a video of his court appearance in Mombasa in 2010, Adebolajo can be heard saying, “These people are mistreating us, we are innocent.”
The government spokesman said “senior members of the intelligence community . . . denied knowledge of the torture ordeal.”
Reports in Britain said Adebolajo was detained on the island of Pate, a few kilometers away from Lamu, which is a crossing point to Somalia.
Adebolajo’s brother-in-law claimed Sunday that Britain’s perceived lack of concern despite “clear proof that he was being tortured . . . violently and sexually” while detained had radicalized him.
“He was a lot quieter and quite bitter towards the fact that he wasn’t getting any help from anyone,” the relative told ITV News.
The disclosure raises fresh questions about the monitoring of Adebolajo and the other suspect in the murder, 22-year-old Michael Adebowale. It has been reported that both were previously known to Britain’s intelligence services, but neither was considered a risk to the public.
Adebolajo was captured on video carrying bloodied knives and a meat cleaver after Wednesday’s attack, saying he had killed off-duty soldier Lee Rigby because British troops were killing Muslims.
Anti-terrorism investigators in France, meanwhile, were probing whether the stabbing of a soldier in Paris as he patrolled a busy shopping center and transport hub Saturday afternoon was a copycat attack.
The soldier suffered a wound to the neck but was said to be in stable condition in a hospital.
French President Francois Hollande said no link to the grisly murder in London had been established “at this stage,” but the French interior minister said there were similarities.
The distraught family of Lee Rigby visited the scene of his murder near his barracks in Woolwich, southeastern London, and added their bouquets to an ever-growing pile of floral tributes at the scene.
The two men accused of hacking him to death remain under armed guard in separate hospitals after they were shot by police at the scene.
The hospitalization of the two suspects has given police extra time to investigate the soldier’s killing before facing a deadline to charge them. While police usually have 36 hours to file charges or seek an extension from a judge, the countdown doesn’t start until the suspects appear in a police station for questioning.
“We are pursuing a significant amount of CCTV, social media, forensic and intelligence opportunities and have active lines of inquiry,” Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Stuart Osborne said. “This remains an ongoing investigation focused upon public safety and identifying any others that may be involved.”
Police arrested a 22-year-old man in London on Sunday on suspicion of conspiracy to murder and were still holding three other men in their 20s who were detained Saturday on the same charge.
Both the suspects in the murder are Muslim converts from Nigerian Christian families, raising fresh concerns in Britain about the radicalization of young men.
Home Secretary Theresa May, the interior minister, warned there were “potentially” thousands of people at risk of being radicalized and said that “all the indications” pointed to last week’s attack being a lone wolf-style incident.
She set the scene for a political row after calling for the resurrection of a bill that would oblige Internet service providers to keep records of messages sent and received online.
The plans were previously dropped due to objections from the Liberal Democrats, the coalition government’s junior partner.
A task force on terrorism will consider whether it needs wider authority to ban such organizations and prevent the messages of extremist preachers from reaching the public, May said on the BBC’s “Andrew Marr Show.” The government will also review whether the country’s intelligence services missed clues leading up to the May 22 attack.
“We need to look at whether we need banning orders” for organizations that don’t meet the current criteria, May said. “When things like this happen, we do need to look at whether things need to be learned.” She cited Anjem Choudary, former leader of the banned Islamist organization Al Muhajiroun, as someone whose public comments should be scrutinized.