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UK soldier's killers sentenced

By Laura Smith-Spark. Claudia Rebaza and Jason Hanna, CNN
updated 12:55 PM EST, Wed February 26, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Michael Adebolajo is sentenced to life in prison for killing UK soldier
  • NEW: Michael Adebowale is sentenced to at least 45 years in Lee Rigby's death
  • The pair hit Rigby with a car, hacked him to death with meat cleaver and knives
  • Adebolajo, a convert to Islam, indicated he believed himself a warrior for Allah

(CNN) -- Two men convicted of killing a British soldier on a London street last year were sentenced Wednesday, one to life in prison and the other to a minimum of 45 years.

In a brutal attack recorded on closed-circuit TV and by bystanders, Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale hit soldier Lee Rigby with a car then hacked him to death with a meat cleaver and knives in May 2013.

The Islamic converts, through testimony or their lawyers' arguments in court, indicated they killed Rigby for Allah. Cellphone footage replayed at the trial showed Adebolajo, still clutching a 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.

They were convicted of murder in December. Adebolajo will spend life in prison. Adebowale received a sentence of at least 45 years.

Alarming testimony in UK murder trail
Prosecutor outlines 'callous murder'

Rigby, who had served in Afghanistan and was off duty when he was killed at the age of 25, left behind a wife and a young son.

The prosecution had asked for the maximum possible sentence: life imprisonment without parole.

But defense lawyers argued Wednesday for leniency. Barrister David Gottlieb told the court that the victim was chosen because he was a member of the armed forces and that no one else was hurt in the attack.

Prosecutor Sue Hemming said the pair "reveled in one of the most appalling terrorist murders I have ever seen."

"Not only was the attack brutal and calculated, it was also designed to advance extremist views," she said in a prepared statement. "As a solider, Fusilier Lee Rigby was targeted in a clear act of revenge, deliberately carried out in full view of members of the public for maximum impact."

Family members attended court Wednesday to hear the sentences handed down.

Outside the court, demonstrators from the English Defence League, a far-right group, carried signs calling for capital punishment to be restored. Britain abolished the death penalty in the 1960s.

'I am a soldier of Allah'

At the trial, the prosecution said that the pair -- both born and raised in Britain by families of Christian Nigerian origin -- deliberately attacked an unarmed man from behind, using a vehicle as a weapon, and that they murdered him and mutilated his body.

At trial, Adebolajo denied the charges of murder on the grounds that he had acted from religious conviction. He converted to Islam in 2002 to 2003, while at a university.

Adebowale, who did not take the stand, converted to Islam more recently, in 2008 to 2009.

In court, Adebolajo gave a matter-of-fact account of his actions. He declared himself a warrior for Allah and said he saw al Qaeda as his "brothers in Islam."

He testified the only way he knew that Rigby was a soldier was because of his backpack.

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

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.

When asked at the trial what his defense to the charge of murder was, Adebolajo said: "I am a soldier. I am a soldier of Allah."

May: 'Sickening and barbaric'

Though Adebowale did not give evidence at the trial, his lawyer, Abbas Lakha, echoed Adebolajo's testimony regarding their intent.

The judge told the jury that the defense's argument -- that Rigby's killing was an act of war or of retaliation -- did not apply.

Adebolajo and Adebowale were found not guilty of attempted murder of a police officer in the case.

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

At the time of the verdict, 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.

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

READ: Lee Rigby murder: Fight extremism without threatening freedom

CNN's Kellie Morgan, Marie-Louise Gumuchian and Carol Jordan contributed to this report.

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