LONDON (AFP) – Two Muslim extremists were found guilty Thursday of hacking to death a British soldier in broad daylight on a London street.
Michael Adebolajo, 29, and Michael Adebowale, 22, ran over Lee Rigby with a car before attacking him with knives outside his barracks in May.
Adebolajo tried to behead Rigby with a meat cleaver in front of horrified passers-by.
The pair had argued they attacked the 25-year-old soldier to avenge the deaths of Muslims at the hands of British troops.
Prime Minister David Cameron said Britain was united in condemnation of the killing, which state prosecutors described as “one of the most savage offences ever prosecuted by our counter-terrorism lawyers”.
Rigby’s relatives, who had walked out of the trial several times during harrowing evidence about his death, broke down in tears as the guilty verdicts were given.
Adebolajo kissed his copy of the Koran as he was taken down to the cells at the Old Bailey court in London.
Jurors cleared Adebolajo and Adebowale of the attempted murder of a police officer.
The pair were shot by armed police at the murder scene in Woolwich, southeast London, after Adebolajo charged at them waving the meat cleaver, while Adebowale raised a rusty, unloaded gun.
The killers, both Britons who were raised by Nigerian Christian families before converting to Islam, may not be sentenced until January.
The court heard that they believed they were “soldiers of Allah” who were avenging the deaths of Muslims, but the judge ruled on Tuesday that this could not be used as a defence.
Minutes after the murder, Adebolajo, still wielding the cleaver and with his hands covered with blood, told onlookers the attack was “an eye for an eye”.
“We swear by the almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you until you leave us alone,” he said in a rant that was filmed on a witness’s mobile phone.
“I apologise that women had to witness this today, but in our lands our women have to see the same. You people will never be safe.”
Rigby’s family said justice had been done, but “no amount of justice will bring Lee back”.
His widow Rebecca, mother of their toddler son, sobbed as a family spokesman told reporters outside the court: “This has been the toughest time of our lives. No one should have to go through what we’ve been through as a family.”
In a police interview after the killing, Adebolajo said he had tried to behead Rigby because it was the most “humane” way of ending his life, comparing it to halal butchery methods.
The defendants’ lawyers told the court the pair had sought martyrdom by challenging police at the murder scene in the hope of being killed.
‘Using Islam as an excuse’
A charge of conspiracy to murder a police officer was dropped during the trial.
The trial heard they had chosen Rigby, who had served in Afghanistan, by chance.
The murder stunned Britain and sparked a rise in community tensions, with several mosques attacked by arsonists. British Muslim leaders deplored the killing.
The brutal daylight attack also raised questions for British intelligence agencies as Adebolajo was known to the security services, having been arrested in Kenya in 2010 and deported.
Cameron said the murder showed that Britain must “redouble our efforts to confront this poisonous narrative of extremism and violence… and make sure we do everything we can to beat it in our country”.
Relatives of Rigby said Islam could not be held responsible for his murder.
“You can’t hold religion responsible for their views,” Rigby’s stepfather Ian said of Adebolajo and Adebowale in an emotional interview with ITV television.
“They’re using religion as an excuse for whatever they’ve been brainwashed with.”
He added that his stepson had become “a figurehead to unite the country and bring people back together”.
Sue Hemming, head of special crime and counter-terrorism at the Crown Prosecution Service, said the soldier had “dedicated his life to keeping people safe, including from the threat of terrorism”.
“That dedication to his country cost him his life and was in stark contrast to the appalling conduct and extremist views of the men who murdered him,” she added