As Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale are found guilty of murdering Lee Rigby, the radical cleric who was Adebolajo’s mentor after he converted tells Channel 4 News he is “proud” of what he did.
Muslim converts Michael Adebolajo, 29, and Michael Adebowale, 22, ran Fusilier Rigby over with a car and then hacked him to death with a meat cleaver and knives near Woolwich barracks in south east London on 22 May.
They were also charged with the attempted murder of a police officer but were cleared by jurors. The jury took around 90 minutes to come to their decisions.
The judge, Mr Justice Sweeney, will pass sentence after a key appeal court ruling on the use of whole life terms in January.
Relatives of Fusilier Rigby broke down in tears as the verdicts were given. Outside the court the soldier’s family said in a statement: “We would like to thank everyone who has helped us finally get justice for Lee, and the overwhelming support we have received.
“This has been the toughest time of our lives. No-one should to have go through what we have been through as a family. We are satisfied that justice has been done. But unfortunately, no amount of justice will bring Lee back.
“These people have taken him away from us forever, but his memory lives on in all of us, and we will never forget him.”
Home Secretary Theresa May welcomed the guilty verdict, and said that Lee Rigby’s murder had “united the entire nation in condemnation”. She added: “We must not forget that this appalling and public act of violence and terror also robbed his family and loved ones of a brave, young man with his life ahead of him.”
Adebolajo’s defence was that he was waging a war for Allah in response to western wars in countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan. This was dismissed by Judge Nigel Sweeney, who said it was not a defence to a murder charge.
Giving evidence in court, Adebolajo said he “loved” al-Qaeda. “Al-Qaeda, I consider to be mujaheddin. I love them. They’re my brothers. I have never met them. I consider them my brothers in Islam.”
He said he did not regret what happened to Fusilier Rigby: “I will never regret obeying the command of Allah. That is all I can say. I’m a mujahid, I’m a soldier, I’m doing what Allah commands me to do. I can’t do anything else.”
The court heard that Adebolajo converted to Islam in his first year at Greenwich University after being raised as a Christian and that he was married and had six children.
Moments after Lee Rigby was killed, with blood on his hands and carrying a weapon, Adebolajo was filmed by a passer-by with a mobile phone.
Explaining his actions, he said: “The only reason we’ve killed this man today is because Muslims are dying daily by British soldiers.
“This British soldier is one – he is an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. By Allah, we swear by the almighty Allah, we will never stop fighting you until you leave us alone.”
Lee Rigby, 25, from Langley, in Middleton, Greater Manchester, was from 2nd Battalion, the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers.
He joined the army in 2006 and three years later was deployed to Afghanistan, where he served as a member of the fire support group.
In 2011, he took up a recruiting post in London where he also assisted with duties at regimental headquarters in the Tower of London. He had been working there on the day he was killed.
Adebolajo told the court that although he was not certain Fusilier Rigby was a soldier, the bag he was carrying and the fact he was heading to the barracks suggested this was the case.
He said he had not previously thought of "killing a man", but added: "When a soldier joins the army, he will likely kill a man at some stage. When I became a mujahid, I became aware I might end up killing a soldier."
In an interview with police that was played to the Old Bailey jury, Adebolajo said it brought him "little joy to approach anybody and slay them".
In a police interview, Adebowale was asked what happened to Fusilier Rigby and answered: “He was struck in the neck with a sharp implement and it was sawed until his head, you know, almost detached and may Allah forgive me if I acted in a way that is displeasing to him.”
Adebowale chose not to give evidence in court, but his barrister Abbas Lakha QC, told the Old Bailey he agreed with Adebolajo’s reasons for the killing.
In his closing speech on Tuesday, Mr Lakha said his client did not plan to kill a police officer, but wanted to achieve “martyrdom”.
Mr Lakha said both men killed the soldier “as soldiers of Islam – this was a military operation they planned together and their target in that operaton was a British soldier, and only a British soldier, no-one else”.
He said the men had wanted armed officers to kill them so they could achieve martyrdom. His (Adebowale’s) actions from beginning to end speak for themselves – it was martyrdom he was after.”
Days after the killing, members of the far-right English Defence League marched through central London to show their support for the military, while condemning militant Islam. They were confronted by anti-fascist protesters, who had to be held back by police.