LONDON (AFP) - A Muslim extremist was jailed for life and his accomplice for 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 in the Old Bailey court in London after they started screaming “Allahu akbar” (God is greater) at the judge during the sentencing.
The pair of Muslim converts were found guilty in December of ploughing into Mr 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 without the possibility of parole for killing Mr Rigby, who had previously served in Afghanistan, and said Adebowale had to serve a minimum of 45 years.
“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-Qaeda terror 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” in response to claims that they had been radicalised.
They scuffled with guards before being carried down to the holding cells and were not in court to hear their penalties read out. The sentencing had been delayed for several weeks because the judge wanted clarification on a European ruling that made it uncertain whether life sentences could still be imposed.
England’s Court of Appeal upheld the right to do so on February 18. Far-right protesters jostled with police outside the court before the pair were sentenced, an AFP photographer said.
They carried a portable hangman’s gallows, waved British flags and chanted slogans calling for the restoration of the death penalty.
Mr Rigby’s family, including his parents and the mother of his child, arrived at the court wearing T-shirts emblazoned with a photograph of the 25-year old fusilier and the words: “Justice For Lee Rigby”. Adebolajo joins a list of more than 50 people serving life sentences in Britain, including 1960s “Moors Murderer” Ian Brady and serial killer Rose West, who tortured, raped and murdered a series of young women with her husband Fred.
The court heard statements from Rigby’s family on Wednesday saying that their lives had been “irreparably changed” by his murder.
His widow Rebecca said that their young son would be forced to see “images of his dad that no son should ever have to endure.”
She said she had accepted that her husband would be at risk when he went to serve in Afghanistan, but “you do not expect to see this on the streets of the UK”.
Adebolajo’s lawyer argued against a life sentence on the grounds that he was “not so depraved” that he was incapable of atonement.
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 Rigby 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.
Judge Sweeney had held off passing sentence in December because the European Court of Human Rights last year condemned the punishment whole-life terms as a violation of prisoners’ rights, causing the Court of Appeal to launch their review.