LONDON -- As police scoured the attack site for evidence, authorities confirmed Thursday that a man who was hacked to death on a London street before horrified bystanders in an apparent terrorist assault was a member of Britain’s armed forces.
The victim’s name has not been released, but Scotland Yard said he was a "serving soldier." An autopsy on the man’s body is to be performed later Thursday.
Authorities said that Wednesday's incident was most likely motivated by radical Islamic ideology. If so, it would be the first death from Islamic terrorism on British soil since the 2005 suicide bombings in London’s transit system, in which 52 people died.
"We have lost a brave soldier," Prime Minister David Cameron said Thursday, adding: "The people who did this were trying to divide us. They should know something like this will only bring us together and make us stronger."
One of the two alleged assailants in Wednesday’s attack was captured on video shortly afterward brandishing knives in his bloodied hands and shouting that the act was in retribution for Britain’s involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq. Unconfirmed news reports said the two suspects are British citizens of Nigerian descent.
The BBC reported that a residence was being searched in connection with the attack but that it was not believed to be the home of either of the two men.
The suspects remained hospitalized Thursday after being shot by police. Officers are eager to question them to determine whether they acted alone or in league with a terrorist network such as Al Qaeda.
The attack took place Wednesday afternoon near a military barracks in southeast London, in full view of passersby. After slashing their victim to death, the assailants invited bystanders to take video of them and seemed to wait for the arrival of police, who shot them when one of them appeared to approach in a threatening manner, according to witness accounts.
Hours later, the government stepped up security around military installations across the British capital. Britain’s Ministry of Defense also initially advised service personnel not to wear their uniforms in public, but on Thursday, that advice was withdrawn.
"Londoners can go about their business in the normal way," Mayor Boris Johnson said after attending an emergency-response committee meeting at the prime minister’s office.
Several mosques in Britain reported being hit by attacks or vandals Wednesday evening. Cameron warned against tarring all Muslims with the same brush.
The attack was "a betrayal of Islam and of the Muslim community who give so much to our country," he said. "There is nothing in Islam that justifies this truly dreadful act."
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