Woolwich suspect Michael Adebolajo came to the attention of MI5 after he appeared in court in Kenya on suspicion of planning to fight for a terrorist group.
According to The Mail on Sunday he was arrested with five others in November 2010. All were said to have been heading for neighbouring Somalia, where they had been recruited by Al-Shabaab, the Islamist insurgent organisation.
Adebolajo, who was filmed after the Woolwich slaughter with blood on his hands, was deported without being charged.
It was soon after his return to Britain, a close friend claims, that MI5 earmarked him as a potential informant and began assiduously courting him.
An East London-based solicitor, who asked not to be named, said: ‘He came to see us last year. He raised serious concerns which are similar to ones we have heard before from others. He met a member of my team and discussed his case.
‘He complained that they [MI5] kept wanting to talk to him and his family. They kept coming round his family home and wanted to meet him regularly. We said if he wanted to deal with it properly, he should give us the number they [MI5] had given him and we would call them.
‘He was very paranoid about the whole thing. But he didn’t come back so we didn’t do anything else with him.’
It is understood that soon afterwards the contact with intelligence officers suddenly ceased.
Adebolajo’s links to the security services were first revealed on Friday on Twitter by one of his closest friends, Abu Nusaybah. Hours later, Nusaybah was arrested under the Terrorism Act just as he was finishing a pre-recorded interview for BBC Newsnight.
Earlier that day, Nusaybah, whose real name is Ibrahim Hassan, gave an interview to a Mail on Sunday reporter in which he made further claims about MI5 and Adebolajo.
‘They wanted him to spy on a group of Muslims who have links to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula [AQAP]. They wanted information about them.’
AQAP, based in Yemen, has been called ‘the most active operational franchise’ of Al Qaeda beyond Pakistan and Afghanistan.
‘They offered him [Adebolajo] money and they gave him a special mobile phone to use when calling them,’ said Hassan. ‘They even took him in for interviews, just to intimidate him to work for them. But he refused.’
By the time Adebolajo arrived in Kenya in 2010, he was already deeply immersed in radical Islam and espousing extremist views.
Along with five Kenyan youths, he was picked up by local police on November 23 after spending the night in a guesthouse on Faza Island, part of the Lamu archipelago in the Indian Ocean close to the Somali border.
Principal magistrate Richard Kirui was told that all six men had been recruited to Al-Shabaab and intended to fight with them to bring down the country’s transitional government.
Al-Shabaab has imposed a strict version of Sharia law in the areas it controls, including stoning to death women accused of adultery.
In court, the youths claimed they had been given nothing to eat for two days and had been denied access to lawyers.
They had spent a night in police custody in Mombasa and were questioned by counter terrorism officers before being taken to court the next day. Adebolajo was fingerprinted and photographed and made a full statement.
After the order was made to deport Adebolajo, police officers accompanied him, handcuffed, in an unmarked police vehicle to Nairobi airport.
During the day-long drive, the vehicle was involved in a minor accident, and although no-one was injured the journey was delayed.That evening Adebolajo was put on the first available flight to London.
At this time he was living on a council estate in Greenwich, South East London, with girlfriend Rikki Thomas and her two children from a previous relationship.
The Mail on Sunday has learned that Thomas – arrested last week in a police raid on her Greenwich house and later released without charge – gave birth to the terror suspect’s son last year.
Neighbours yesterday recalled how 29-year-old Thomas wore mini-skirts and was a ‘bright lovely woman’ before meeting him six years ago and turning into someone who hardly left the house.
Odette Hamilton said: ‘Rikki began to dress more and more like a Muslim. Eventually she wore the whole burka.
‘When they walked down the street, he used to make her follow behind him, in subordination.’