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Lee Rigby murder: 2 men found guilty in UK soldier's slaying

By Laura Smith-Spark. Kellie Morgan and Marie-Louise Gumuchian, CNN
updated 11:54 AM EST, Thu December 19, 2013
Drummer Lee Rigby, the soldier killed in the May 22, 2013, incident in Woolwich, southeast London.
Drummer Lee Rigby, the soldier killed in the May 22, 2013, incident in Woolwich, southeast London.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Relatives say Lee Rigby has been taken away from them, but his memory lives on
  • The jury finds Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale guilty of Lee Rigby's murder
  • Both are found not guilty of the attempted murder of a police officer
  • Michael Adebolajo kisses his Quran as he is led out of court after the verdict

London (CNN) -- Two men, Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, were found guilty Thursday of the murder of British soldier Lee Rigby near a military barracks in southeast London in May.

Their slaying of Rigby, whom they mowed down and hacked to death in the full view of horrified onlookers in the capital's Woolwich neighborhood, shocked the nation.

Cellphone footage replayed in court at the trial showed Adebolajo, still clutching a meat cleaver in his bloody hands, ranting that the killing was "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" for British soldiers killing Muslims overseas.

The two were found not guilty of attempted murder of a police officer, in a verdict that took about 90 minutes to come at the Old Bailey court in London.

Adebolajo, 29, and Adebowale, 22, had pleaded not guilty to both charges. The two men are expected to be sentenced in January.

Adebolajo used the opportunity of a not guilty plea to defend himself in court and declare himself a warrior for Allah. He saw himself as much of a soldier as Rigby, who had previously served in Afghanistan, and said he saw al Qaeda as his "brothers in Islam."

As he was led out of court after the verdict, Adebolajo faced the media and kissed the Quran he carried.

Rigby's family and widow, who were in court to hear much of the harrowing evidence, cried after the verdicts were read.

In a statement outside the court, read by Detective Inspector Pete Sparks, the soldier's family gave their thanks for the "overwhelming support" they'd received and said they were proud of how Rigby had served his country.

"This is the toughest time of our lives. No one should have to go through what we've been through as a family. We are satisfied that justice has been done but unfortunately no amount of justice will bring Lee back," it said.

"These people have taken him away from us forever but his memory lives on in all of us and we will never forget him."

The family, asking to be left alone to grieve in private, said they would now focus on the future of Rigby's young son, Jack.

Domestic terrorism threat

The brutal attack, recorded on closed-circuit TV and by bystanders, brought the consequences of British support for wars in Afghanistan and Iraq after September 11, 2001, to London's suburbs.

Like attacks on U.S. soldiers by Islamist extremists on American soil, the attack on Rigby caused political concern about the implications of domestic terrorism in a country that has fought al Qaeda and Islamic terrorism and also has a significant Muslim population.

However, although tensions were heightened in some areas after the attack, determined efforts by community leaders helped to prevent them from escalating.

"This horrific attack and murder, which took place in broad daylight on the streets of London, shocked the whole country," said Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick, of London's Metropolitan Police, following the verdict.

"It was intended to divide our communities. It has had largely the opposite effect, and in fact brought people together."

Dick said the force supported the court's decision to find the two men not guilty of the attempted murder of a police officer.

"But I would also like to pay tribute to those firearms officers who were faced with a terrifying situation and displayed extreme courage and professionalism," she said.

The prosecution had argued that when they ran toward the police vehicle that responded after Rigby's murder -- with Adebolajo holding a knife and Adebowale a gun -- they intended to kill a police officer.

However, the defense argued that the two men wanted to be killed by police. The gun was not loaded.

Sue Hemming, head of the Crown Prosecution Service's counterterrorism branch, said it would ask for the court to "find that this murder was motivated by terrorism when the defendants come to be sentenced, so that all options under counterterrorism legislation are available to the judge."

She added, "As a soldier, this young father had dedicated his life to keeping people safe, including from the threat of terrorism. That dedication to his country cost him his life, and was in stark contrast to the appalling conduct and extremist views of the men who murdered him."

Home Secretary Theresa May said the "sickening and barbaric murder" of Rigby had "united the entire nation in condemnation."

"Violence and extremism of any kind have absolutely no place in our society and cannot be justified," she said.

Protesters who gathered outside the Old Bailey criminal court Thursday demanded capital punishment for the two defendants. Britain does not have the death penalty.

They 'seemed very proud'

Summing up the case Thursday morning, Judge Nigel Sweeney reminded jurors of what happened in the 13 minutes between Lee Rigby's body being dragged into the middle of a road near the Woolwich barracks and the arrival of police.

The judge quoted from statements made by witnesses who watched as the two men lingered at the scene.

One described the defendants as "posing" and said they "seemed very proud of what they had in their hands." Another said: "They looked pleased with what they had done."

Other statements quoted by the judge recounted how Adebolajo spoke to bystanders, telling them "women and children are safe but keep back when the police and soldiers get here." They recalled him talking about "Muslim lands."

The judge also referred to the statements made by police who shot and disabled the defendants when they arrived at the scene.

One described how a female officer who was driving the police vehicle feared she was going to die when Adebolajo ran at the car and then again when Adebowale aimed a gun at her.

The judge also cited details of Adebolajo's police interview and witness testimony, including that he loved al Qaeda, and that he had tried to cut off Rigby's head because it was the proper method under Allah.

'Moral conviction'

In his closing argument Wednesday, lawyer David Gottlieb described Adebolajo as intelligent, totally sincere in his beliefs and as someone who has shown "absolute honesty and moral conviction."

Adebolajo had told the court he killed the soldier because he was fighting a war.

While Adebolajo took to the stand earlier this month, Adebowale did not give evidence at the trial.

Adebowale's lawyer, Abbas Lakha asked jurors to set aside their prejudice and emotion in the case.

He echoed Adebolajo's testimony regarding their intent. When he was asked earlier this month what his defense to the charge of murder was, Adebolajo said: "I am a soldier. I am a soldier of Allah."

Both defense lawyers argued that was not the same as intent to murder.

But the judge told the jury that the defense argument that the killing of Rigby was an act of war or of retaliation did not apply in this case.

CNN's Carol Jordan contributed to this report.

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