London - Two British Muslim converts were sentenced to life in prison on Wednesday for hacking a soldier to death in broad daylight on a London street in a gruesome killing that horrified the nation and provoked an anti-Islamic backlash.
Michael Adebolajo, 29, and Michael Adebowale, 22, were found guilty by a jury in December of murdering off-duty soldier Lee Rigby, a 25-year old Afghan war veteran in Woolwich, south-east London, in May last year.
Adebolajo received a whole-life term while Adebowale was told he would serve a minimum term of 45 years.
They were sentenced in their absence after being dragged shouting and struggling down to the cells by security guards with whom they had started brawling in the dock as the judge opened his sentencing remarks.
“You decided, between you, and in order to advance your extremist cause, to murder a soldier in public in broad daylight and to do so in a way that would generate maximum media coverage,” Judge Nigel Sweeney told the court.
“Sentence for murder is mandatory - it must be one of life imprisonment,” he said.
The sentence was greeted with cheers by a large group of far-right demonstrators who had rigged up a mock gallows outside the Old Bailey court in central London.
The murder, which provoked a rise in hate crimes against Muslims in Britain and anti-Islamic street protests, made international headlines as a video of Adebolajo with blood-soaked hands justifying the attack travelled around the world.
Rigby's wife Rebecca told the court in a written statement that the death of the off-duty soldier, who had served in Afghanistan, Cyprus and Germany, was all the more shocking for having taken place in Britain.
“We both talked about the dangers of Afghanistan and we braced ourselves for it,” said Rebecca Rigby. “You do not expect to see this on the streets of the United Kingdom.”
“My son will grow up and see images of his dad that no son should have to endure and there's nothing I can do to change this,” she said of their two-year old son.