A prison van leaves after the verdict in the Lee Rigby murder trial at the Old Bailey in central London yesterday.
LONDON: Michael Adebolajo, one of two men convicted of hacking a British soldier to death, turned from being an ordinary London youth into a self-styled “soldier of Allah” watched by British security services.
Like his accomplice Michael Adebowale, 29-year-old Adebolajo was raised in Britain by a devout Nigerian Christian family before converting to Islam.
Minutes after attempting to behead soldier Lee Rigby in broad daylight outside his London barracks on May 22, Adebolajo told horrified onlookers he was “forced by the Quran” to “fight them as they fight us. An eye for a eye and a tooth for a tooth”.
Mobile phone footage taken by an eyewitness of Adebolajo ranting with his hands soaked in Rigby’s blood stunned Britain.
“The only reason we’ve killed this man today is because Muslims are dying daily by British soldiers,” the married father-of-six said into the camera, still wielding a meat cleaver.
“Leave our lands and you will live in peace.”
Adebolajo was known to British security services after being arrested in Kenya in 2010, close to the border with Somalia, home to the Shebab Islamist militants who claimed responsibility for the deadly siege at a Nairobi shopping mall in September.
He told a Kenyan court he had wanted to go and live in Somalia under Shariah.
Childhood friends remembered Adebolajo as a classroom joker with the same interests as any other British teenager — football, chasing girls, playing video games, and listening to rap music. Detectives have tried to piece together how he turned from a church-going boy into a Muslim radical.
He converted to Islam in 2003 while studying politics at Greenwich University in southeast London — close to the barracks in Woolwich outside which Rigby was killed — and adopted the name Mujahid.
Adebolajo appeared at several public events with members of Al Muhajiroun, a group founded by banned Islamist preacher Omar Bakri and proscribed under anti-terror laws.
Anjem Choudary, the group’s former leader in Britain, said: “He used to attend some of our activities over the years. Very peaceful chap actually, not violent at all, very pleasant.” Adebolajo was “a normal guy”, Choudary said, adding: “He used to propagate Islam, concerned about foreign policy. “I wouldn’t say he was a member but he attended some of the activities, demonstrations, processions, talks.
“We lost any kind of contact with him about three years ago.”
Friends and family watched with concern as Adebolajo became increasingly radical.
In 2006 he joined a protest outside the Old Bailey — the same London court where he himself was convicted — in support of a Muslim accused of calling for the killing of British soldiers.
In a scuffle, he was convicted of assaulting a police officer and received a 51-day jail term.
He and 22-year-old Adebowale owned speeches and books about religious war and martyrdom, including works by US-born preacher Anwar Al Awlaki, who reportedly had contact with three of the bombers in the September 11, 2001, attacks on the US.
After returning from Kenya in 2010, he was approached several times by MI5, Britain’s domestic security agency.
Adebolajo’s sixth child was born just four days before the brutal attack on Rigby, who was chosen at random outside his barracks.
In court, Adebolajo attempted to justify his actions by saying he was a “soldier of Allah”.
Found guilty of murder on yesterday, he kissed his copy of the Quran as he was taken down to the cells. AFP