“Yes, Michael was one of my students when he was 19. At the time, I used to give lectures in several cities in Britain, including Woolwich Community Center, where I met the young man for the first time,” Bakri said.
“Once I saw the footage, I recognized [Michael’s] face immediately. I knew him. He was very quiet and very shy and asked many questions about Islam.”
Michael Adebolajo is a 28-year-old British-born Muslim convert from a Christian Nigerian immigrant family. He converted to Islam as a teenager in south-east London. Adebolajo is alleged to have murdered an off-duty British soldier in Woolwich last Wednesday.
A video recording shot after the murder shows Adebolajo, his hands stained with blood, saying: “The only reason we killed this man … is because Muslims are dying daily,” adding, “this British soldier is an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”
He went on to say, “‘I apologize that women have had to witness this today, but in our land our women have to see the same. You people will never be safe. Remove your government, they don’t care about you…. Tell them to bring our troops back so you can all live in peace.”
The Lebanese cleric claimed that his lectures in Woolwich did not promote violence or hatred. Bakri emphasized, “I used to teach my students that there is no difference between white and black and that all people in Islam are as equal as the teeth of a comb, as the Prophet [Muhammad] taught us,”
He stressed, “I did not teach them murder or slaughter,” adding, “Michael’s deed is based on his own interpretation of Islamic Shari’a law.”
The British Home Office has excluded Omar Bakri from returning to Britain, where he lived for more than twenty years, describing his presence in the country as being “not conductive to the public good.” He was initially expelled from the UK in 2005 for “glorifying terrorism” and famously praised the 9/11 hijackers as the “magnificent 19.”
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat yesterday, Bakri denied promoting violence. He said, “I used to teach my students true brotherhood based on the belief that every Muslim is my brother in Islam irrespective of their color, gender or ancestry.”
Commenting specifically about Michael Adebolajo, he said: “Michael is a British-born Nigerian immigrant who found in Islam a safe haven after he had suffered from discrimination. He converted from Christianity to Islam with complete conviction.”
Bakri said he did not view the killing as “legitimate,” adding that “once Muslims settle in a non-Muslim country, they enter into a covenant of security with the people, where no side attacks the other…. However, Mujahid appears to have his own beliefs in this regard.”
Although the attack has been vociferously condemned by Muslim organizations across Britain, Bakri insisted that “according to some interpretations of Islam, Michael did not target a civilian but an on-duty soldier.”
“I do not object to his deed. I believe he did not want to commit to the covenant of security; and this is considered individual jihad, but I am against the way in which he killed the victim,” he added.
Bakri stressed that Al-Muhajiroun had nothing to do with the attack and that members of the banned group had not seen Adebolajo since 2005.
However, Anjem Choudary, who replaced Bakri as the leader of Al-Mouhajiroun, said that Adebolajo attended the group’s events until about two years ago.
The 25-year-old victim, named as Drummer Lee Rigby of the 2nd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, was a British soldier based in Woolwich, London. He was murdered near his barracks on Wednesday, leaving a widow and a two-year-old son. He first joined the army in 2006 and had previously served in Helmand province, Afghanistan, as a member of the Fire Support Group based at Patrol Base Woqab.