Two British Muslim converts were sentenced to decades in prison on Wednesday for the murder of Lee Rigby, a British soldier who was killed on a London street in a gruesome knife attack that horrified the nation and provoked anti-Muslim backlash.
Michael Adebolajo, 29, received a life term, while Michael Adebowale, 22, received a mandatory minimum sentence of 45 years in prison. They were sentenced in absentia at the Old Bailey court in London after being dragged down to their cells for brawling with security guards as the judge opened his sentencing remarks.
Self-described "soldier of Allah" Adebolajo and accomplice Adebowale were convicted in December of murdering Afghanistan War veteran Rigby, 25, in Woolwich, southeast London. Rigby was struck by a car and then repeatedly stabbed with knives in front of horrified passersby. Adebowale attacked his torso, while Adebolajo attempted to cut off the soldier's head with a cleaver.
Rigby was killed because "Muslims are dying daily by British soldiers" — "an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth," Adebolajo said in a video.
The May 22 attack shocked Britain and inflamed fears of Islamic extremism in the country.
In his testimony, Adebolajo told the court that he and Adebowale had decided to kill a British soldier as revenge for attacks on Muslims abroad.
Rigby’s murder, which provoked a rise in hate crimes against Muslims in Britain and anti-Muslim street protests, made international headlines as the video of Adebolajo with blood-soaked hands justifying the attack traveled around the world.
As the judge told them they had been radicalized, Adebolajo yelled "Allahu akbar" — "God is great" — while Adebowale called out, "That's a lie."
In his testimony, Adebolajo told the court that he loved Al-Qaeda, though he never met its members. He also said that after he and Adebowale had decided to kill a British soldier, Rigby was the first they came across.
Judge Nigel Sweeney said their actions were "sickening and pitiless" and resulted in a "bloodbath." He added that he was certain Adebolajo had no hope of rehabilitation.
"You decided, between you, and in order to advance your extremist cause, to murder a soldier in public in broad daylight and to do so in a way that would generate maximum media coverage," he said. "You both gloried in what you had done."
Outside the court, protesters from two far-right groups erected gallows and demanded capital punishment for the two men.
Rigby's family said after the sentencing that they were satisfied justice had been served.