Two men killed an off-duty British soldier in broad daylight on a busy London street in a brutal attack designed to force the public to “see the consequences,” prosecutors said.
Michael Adebolajo, 28, and Michael Adebowale, 22, ran over Lee Rigby and then got out of their car and nearly decapitated the unconscious soldier in a series of assaults with knives and cleavers, Richard Whittam, a prosecution lawyer, told jurors today on the first day of the trial.
“They wanted the members of the public present to see the consequences of their barbarous act,” Whittam said. “They had committed a cowardly and callous murder by deliberately attacking an unarmed man in civilian clothes from behind.”
Rigby, 25, was attacked just after 2 p.m. on May 22 outside a military barracks in the Woolwich neighborhood of southeast London. Adebolajo, who has asked to be called Mujaahid Abu Hamza, and Adebowale, who goes by the name of Ismail Ibn Abdullah, were shot, wounded and arrested by police at the scene of the crime and later taken into custody.
Both men have pleaded not guilty to murder and guilty to possession of a firearm. Their lawyers will present arguments later in the trial.
Adebolajo, wearing a black shirt, and Adebowale, wearing a rust-colored sweater, sat in the courtroom surrounded by six prison officers.
The attack transfixed the U.K. with televised images of bloodshed filmed by onlookers. Adebolajo and Adebowale “waited together for the inevitable arrival of the emergency services,” the prosecutor said.
The jury of eight women and four men were played closed-circuit television footage of Rigby being run over. Minutes later, the two men dragged the soldier into the middle of the road.
“A woman engaged Michael Adebolajo in conversation despite the fact that he was still holding the meat cleaver and his hands covered in blood,” Whittam said.
It was clear there “was an agreement to attack the police when they arrived.” Whittam said. “The vehicle contained armed police officers who were forced to engage with both defendants with live ammunition.”
The attack was pre-planned, with Adebolajo buying a five-piece set of kitchen knives and a sharpener the day before, Whittam said.
A witness, Amanda Bailey, said she saw one of the men, repeatedly striking the right side of Rigby’s neck with a cleaver, just below the jaw line, Whittam told the jury.
“I was so shocked that all I could do was sit there and stare at what was happening,” Bailey said in the witness statement read by Whittam. “He was determined and he wasn’t going to stop. He didn’t care.”
Rigby, the father of a 2-year-old son when he died, was drummer in the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. A fan of the Manchester United soccer team, he served as a machine gunner in Cyprus and then in 2009 as a member of a fire support group in Helmand province, Afghanistan.
“One woman went to the lifeless body of Lee Rigby and stroked him to provide some comfort and humanity to what had unfolded,” Whittam said.
Adebolajo handed a hand-written note to a woman shortly before the police arrived, Whittam said.
“If you find yourselves curious why carnage has come to your town,” he wrote in the note. It “is simply retaliation for your oppression in our towns.”
Another eye-witness recalled one of the men claiming the attack was “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” Whittam said.
Adebolajo was shot by police after he ran toward their car with the cleaver raised, sustaining a gunshot wound to his bicep. Adebowale was shot in the thumb, abdomen and thigh, prosecutors said.
“Please let me lay here,” Adebolajo told paramedics after being shot. “I don’t want anyone to die, I just want the soldiers out of my country.”
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