LONDON – A Muslim extremist was imprisoned for life and his accomplice got 45 years on Wednesday for hacking British soldier Lee Rigby to death on a London street in a “terrorist” killing that shocked the nation.
Michael Adebolajo, 29, and Michael Adebowale, 22, were dragged from the dock at the Old Bailey court in London after they started screaming “Allahu akbar” (“God is great”) at the judge during the sentencing.
The pair of Muslim converts were found guilty in December of plowing into Rigby with a car before attacking him with knives in broad daylight outside his barracks in Woolwich, southeast London, in May 2013.
Judge Nigel Sweeney ordered Adebolajo to spend the rest of his life behind bars, with no possibility of parole, for killing Rigby, who had served in Afghanistan, and said Adebowale had to serve a minimum of 45 years in prison.
“This was a murder with a terrorist connection,” the judge said, describing the killing as “sickening and pitiless.”
He said a whole-life prison term was a “just penalty” for Adebolajo, who had proclaimed his admiration for the al-Qaida terrorist network, but that the younger man’s “lesser role” meant he would get a shorter sentence.
Adebolajo and Adebowale, both Britons who were raised by Nigerian Christian families before converting to Islam, said they had attacked the off-duty soldier to avenge the deaths of Muslims at the hands of British troops.
Minutes before the sentencing, Adebolajo started shouting “Allahu akbar” and Adebowale called out, “That’s a lie” as the judge claimed that the pair had been radicalized.
They scuffled with guards, meters away from Rigby’s grieving family, before being carried down to the holding cells, and were not in court to hear their penalties read out.
On the day of the killing, Adebolajo tried to behead Rigby with a meat cleaver in front of horrified passers-by. He then allowed a passer-by to film him showing his bloodstained hands and explaining his reasons for the killing.
The pair were shot and wounded by armed police at the murder scene after Adebolajo charged at them waving the cleaver while Adebowale raised a rusty, unloaded gun.
The convicted killers claimed they were “soldiers of Islam” and therefore justified in their actions.
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.