LONDON (AFP) - The British soldier butchered on the streets of London by two suspected Islamists was a 25-year-old father who had fought the Taleban in Afghanistan, the Ministry of Defence said on Thursday.
Officials named the victim of Wednesday's bloody attack near a military barracks in Woolwich as Mr Lee Rigby, a machine-gunner with 2nd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers.
A lifelong Manchester United fan and a drummer in the military band, he had also served in Germany and Cyprus but was at the time of his death working in London.
"An extremely popular and witty soldier, Drummer Rigby was a larger than life personality within the Corps of Drums and was well known, liked and respected across the Second Fusiliers," said a statement from the Ministry of Defence.
"A loving father to his son Jack, aged two years, he will be sorely missed by all who knew him. The regiment's thoughts and prayers are with his family during this extremely difficult time."
His commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Jim Taylor, said Mr Rigby was a "true warrior", while other colleagues paid tribute to his bubbly personality and sense of humour.
"Drummer Rigby, or 'Riggers', as he was known within the platoon, was a cheeky and humorous man, always there with a joke to brighten the mood," said Captain Alan Williamson, adjutant to the Second Fusiliers.
He added: "Once a Fusilier, always a Fusilier."
Mr Rigby was born in July 1987 in Manchester in northwest England. He joined the army in 2006 and had his first posting at the British military base in Cyprus.
In 2009 he was deployed to Helmand province in Afghanistan, where he operated machine guns and anti-tank missiles as part of Nato-led forces fighting the Taleban.
He later served at the Celle military base in Germany, and in 2011 took up a recruiting post in London, where he also worked at regimental headquarters at the Tower of London.
Mr Rigby was hacked to death in a brazen attack in broad daylight by two men wielding knives and a cleaver who later launched into a tirade against the British government and its military involvement in Muslim countries.
The post-mortem examination was due to take place on Thursday.
His assailants, believed to be Britons of Nigerian descent, were injured in police fire and taken to separate hospitals, where they spent the night under armed guard.
Prime Minister David Cameron had earlier offered his condolences to Rigby's family, saying: "We have lost a brave soldier".