LONDON - Two radicalized British Muslim converts who described themselves as "soldiers of Allah" were convicted Thursday of hacking a soldier to death on a street in broad daylight.
Michael Adebolajo, 29, and Michael Adebowale, 22, struck Fusilier Lee Rigby with a car and then attacked his unconscious body with knives and a meat cleaver, trying to behead him.
Ministry of Defence via EPA
Lee Rigby, the British soldier killed on a London street in front of onlookers in May, 2013.
The two British citizens had denied murder, with Adebolajo saying the killing was part of a war for Allah in response to Western wars in nations such as Iraq and Afghanistan.
They dragged Rigby's corpse into the middle of the road where Adebolajo asked a bystander to video them, with their hands covered blood, as he calmly explained what he had done.
"We swear by almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you. The only reason we've killed this man today is because Muslims are dying daily by British soldiers," Adebolajo told the camera.
"He is an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth."
The murder of the Afghanistan veteran, witnessed by horrified passers-by, happened near Woolwich Barracks in south-east London on the afternoon of May 22.
They had been looking for a soldier to kill, and spotted Rigby, who was wearing a shirt bearing the name of a leading British military charity, Help for Heroes.
Both men were cleared of a charge of attempting to murder a police officer who rushed to the scene.
Adebolajo kissed the Quran in front of reporters after being found guilty, said ITV News' Lucy Manning who was in court.
Both men were born in Britain and raised as Christians before converting to Islam as teenagers. It is not clear how they became so radicalized. Both had served prison sentences for other offences and had taken part in high profile Islamist demonstrations.
Members of Rigby's family were also at London’s Old Bailey, and wept as they heard the verdict.
His widow, Rebecca, said: "I would like to thank everyone who has helped us to finally get justice for Lee. This has been the toughest time of our lives and no-one should have to go through what we have been through as a family.
Michael Adebolajo (left) was captured on camera at the scene, with bloodied hands, telling passers-by that he had killed soldier Lee Rigby in the name of Allah.
"These people have taken away my baby's dad but Lee's memory lives on through our son and we will never forget him."
Farooq Murad, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain secretary general said Rigby's killing was "a dishonourable act," adding: "No cause justifies cold-blooded murder."
"Muslim communities then, as now, were united in their condemnation of this crime," he said.
The judge in the case expressed his "admiration" for Rigby's family, who attended court almost every day and listened to the evidence of what happened in the soldier's final moments, ITV News reported. Mr. Justice Sweeney said they had "sat in court with great dignity throughout what must have been the most harrowing of evidence.”
Britons reacted with horror and anger to the attack, which escalated racial tensions in the city where 52 people were killed by bombs detonated on buses and subway trains by four suicide attackers on July 7, 2005. There were attacks on mosques in London and the West Midlands in the wake of Rigby’s death.
Police photos show, from left, Michael Adebowale and Michael Adebolajo.
Britain's Prime Minister, David Cameron, welcomed the convictions, saying the verdict "shows that we have to redouble our efforts to confront the poisonous narrative of extremism and violence that lay behind this and make sure we do everything to beat it in our country."
Speaking to reporters in Brussels, the Prime Minister said, "The whole country was completely shocked by the murder of Lee Rigby and the whole country united in condemnation of what happened."
First published December 19 2013, 8:04 AM