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Trial begins for 2 men accused of 'callous murder' of UK soldier Lee Rigby

By Laura Smith-Spark and Victoria Eastwood, CNN
updated 12:04 PM EST, Sun December 1, 2013
People line the streets for the funeral procession of Fusilier Lee Rigby in Bury, England, on July 12, 2013.
People line the streets for the funeral procession of Fusilier Lee Rigby in Bury, England, on July 12, 2013.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Court is shown footage of man with bloody cleaver saying attack is "an eye for an eye"
  • Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale are accused of the murder of soldier Lee Rigby
  • They are also accused of attempted murder of a police officer; they deny the charges
  • One suspect bought a set of knives before the attack, the court hears

London (CNN) -- Two men went on trial Friday accused of the "cowardly and callous murder" of British soldier Lee Rigby, who was hacked to death in a London street.

Michael Adebolajo, 28, and Michael Adebowale, 22, are each accused of murder, conspiracy to murder a police officer and attempted murder of a police officer.

They denied the charges at the Old Bailey court in London.

Prosecutor Richard Whittam told the jury that the suspects deliberately attacked an unarmed man from behind using a vehicle as a weapon, "and then they murdered him and mutilated his body with a meat cleaver and knives."

The court was shown cell phone footage filmed by a witness in which a man who prosecutors said was Adebolajo, holding a bloody cleaver in his hands, spoke into the camera.

"The only reason we've killed this man today is because Muslims are dying daily by British soldiers," he said. "This British soldier is an eye for an eye, a tooth for tooth."

"You people will never be safe. Remove your governments -- they don't care about you," he said, referring also to British Prime Minister David Cameron.

"So get rid of them. Tell them to bring our troops back so you can all live in peace. Leave our lands and you will live in peace."

The killing of Rigby outside the Woolwich Barracks in southeast London on May 22 shocked the nation. He left behind a wife and a young son.

Two men plead not guilty to murder of British soldier

Almost decapitated

Describing the events of that day, the prosecutor said the two suspects drove at Rigby in a car traveling at 30 to 40 miles per hour. The soldier appears to have been knocked unconscious by the impact, he said.

The court was shown surveillance video of the car crossing to the wrong side of the road before it hit him, and Rigby rolling onto the hood of the car. He was carried on to the sidewalk.

Footage from a different surveillance camera showed two men dragging the soldier's limp body from the sidewalk into the middle of the road. Cars driven by passersby stopped at the scene, some with their warning lights flashing.

Whittam, the prosecutor, said the defendants were armed with a meat cleaver, knives and a revolver when they got out of the car.

"They both attacked the motionless body of Lee Rigby. He was repeatedly stabbed, and Michael Adebolajo made a serious and almost successful attempt to decapitate him with multiple blows to his neck with the meat cleaver," he said.

"Michael Adebowale was using a knife to stab and cut at Lee Rigby's body."

Whittam said the two men dragged the soldier into the road so members of the public could "see the consequences of their barbarous acts."

At this point, he said, some of the people present showed a "bravery and decency" in stark contrast to the suspects' alleged acts.

One woman stroked Rigby's body in a gesture of comfort, he said, while another engaged Adebolajo in conversation despite the fact that he was still holding the meat cleaver in his blood-covered hands.

Soldier's family to world: Keep calm, don't seek revenge

Conspiracy 'to attack the police'

When police arrived at the scene, the two men moved toward their vehicle, Whittam said.

Adebolajo carried the cleaver, while Adebowale held the firearm. He aimed it at the officers, although it was not loaded, the prosecutor said.

Both men were shot and detained, and the firearms officers gave first aid to keep them alive, he said.

The two suspects are accused of waiting for the police to reach the scene, having conspired together to attack an officer. "It is clear that there was an agreement to attack the police when they arrived," Whittam said.

Adebolajo got "very close" to the driver's side of the police vehicle, he said. While the gun carried by Adebowale was not loaded, he also had on him the bloodstained knife he'd used to attack Rigby, the prosecutor said.

The prosecutor also told the court how the firearms officers had to react within moments as they arrived at the scene. One officer "felt that he was in the most urgent situation of his life," he said.

The court heard that Adebolajo was shot in the arm by police. Having been given morphine for the pain, he allegedly told paramedics, "Your government is all wrong. I did it for my God. I wish the bullets had killed me so I can join my friends and family."

Adebowale suffered gunshot injuries to his thumb, abdomen and thigh, the court heard. He was also given pain relief and taken to hospital.

Jurors were also shown pictures of the bloodied weapons allegedly used by the two men.

Adebolajo had asked to be known as Mujaahid Abu Hamza in court, and Adebowale as Ismail Ibn Abdullah. However, the court has continued to use their given names.

The jury was told both men have pleaded guilty to a charge of possession of a firearm with intent to cause fear of violence.

Suspects 'bought knives'

Whittam said the attack unfolded in a very public place, near a school. Some children, returning from a school outing, had to be turned back by passersby before they saw the gory scene.

Friends and relatives of Rigby were in court for the opening of the trial. Some family members left crying as images were shown of the soldier shortly before the attack, as he left the public transit system in Woolwich.

The jury also saw CCTV footage of the suspects' movements in the two days before they allegedly launched their attack.

They included a visit to a store where Adebolajo bought a five-piece set of kitchen knives and a knife sharpener, the prosecution said.

The car allegedly used by the suspects was also caught on surveillance video maneuvering in the vicinity of the street where Rigby was attacked later that day.

Security footage from Rigby's last train journey showed he was wearing a "Help for Heroes" hooded sweatshirt, in support of a charity that aids military veterans.

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