A man confirmed as a soldier was killed in a politically-motivated knife attack by two men, who were shot by police. The attack triggered clashes between the EDL and riot officers on Wednesday.

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Warning: Contains graphic details

The victim, now confirmed as an off-duty soldier from the British army military barracks in Woolwich, was run over before being attacked with knives and a meat cleaver.

An eyewitness described filming one of the suspects approaching him after the incident in south east London, on Wednesday.

The man was carrying a visibly bloodied meat cleaver and said "I just want to talk to you with your camera".

He then shouted: "You people will never be safe!"

The witness said the pair claimed they carried out the attack "because David Cameron, (the) British government sent troops in Arabic country".

It was later reported at least one of the men may have links to Somali militant group al-Shabaab.

They wanted to give a message to the British government. That's what they say to me when they were talking to my camera - Eyewtiness

"They wanted to give a message to the British government," he explained. "That's what they said to me when they were talking to my camera."

He added that he was surprised the men, who are now in hospital, did not try to escape: "They do this publicly to give it some message... They didn't go anywhere. Most of the time, when you see the crime, the person starts running becasue they dont want to be arrested."

He also described how as the attack on John Wilson Street happened, two women shouted "stop it, stop it", and the attackers apologised, saying women should not be allowed to see what was happening - only men.

Read more: Does the Woolwich attack have chilling echoes of a previous plot?

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'Sickening and barbaric'

Prime Minister David Cameron returned early from Paris and chaired an emergency Cobra meeting.

He said that Britain had faced terror attacks before, adding: "We will never buckle in the face of it."

Home Secretary Theresa May confirmed that she had been briefed by the head of MI5 on the "sickening and barbaric" attack.

Commander Simon Letchford, speaking from Woolwich, said: "At approx 14:20pm we were called to reports of an assault in John Wilson Street, Woolwich where one man was being assaulted by two other men. A number of weapons were reportedly being used in the attack, and this included reports of a firearm.

"Officers including local Greenwich officers arrived at the scene and shortly after firearms officers arrived on the scene... Two men, who we believe from early reports to have been carrying weapons, were shot by police."

One patient was airlifted from the scene, while another was taken away by road ambulance, said the London Ambulance Service.

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Police shootings after 'machete attack' in Woolwich (courtesy: M Atley)

(Picture above via Twitter/MAtley )

Another witness, James, said he saw a young victim attacked with knives and a meat cleaver.

In a graphic description of events, he told London radio station LBC: "They were hacking at this poor guy, literally. They were hacking at him, chopping him, cutting him."

Fighting back tears, James said: "These two guys were crazed. They were just animals. They dragged him from the pavement and dumped his body in the middle of the road and left his body there."

He said that after the attack, which he described as "horrendous", the two men stood around waving knives and a gun, and asked people nearby to take pictures of them "as if they wanted to be on TV or something".

Help for Heroes T-shirt

Michael Atley, who was at the scene after the attack, told Channel 4 News that he saw the police shoot two men.

He saw from the corner of Mulgrave Road that two black men had attacked someone. Armed police were at the scene and he said they shot the two men, who fell to the ground.

Mr Atley told Channel 4 News that the victim was not wearing an army uniform, but could have been wearing a Help the Heroes t-shirt.

Commander Letchford said a police presence in the area surrounding the incident would continue into the evening.

'Right in front of my eyes'

One eyewitness, a rapper who calls himself @Boyadee on Twitter reported seeing the attack "right in front of my eyes".

He tweeted: "Mate ive seen alot of sh** im my time but that has to rank sumwhere in the top 3. I couldnt believe my eyes. That was some movie sh**"

The area around John Wilson Street has been shut down but few details have emerged.

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EDL clashes

Hours after the attacks, running battles erupted in the streets between police and activists from the English Defence League (EDL) dressed in balaclavas and paramilitary clothing.

A group of more than 100 people gathered as EDL leader "Tommy Robinson" addressed protesters. Missiles were thrown at officers.

Fifteen police vans attended the scene and the violence was brought under control before midnight.