By Michael Holden and Costas Pitas
LONDON (Reuters) - Two men tried to behead a British soldier in broad daylight on a London street, hacking at his body "like a butcher attacking a joint of meat" in what one said was "eye for an eye" revenge for Britain's wars against Muslims, a court was told on Friday.
Michael Adebolajo, 28, and Michael Adebowale, 22, dragged the lifeless body of Fusilier Lee Rigby, a veteran of the Afghan War, into the middle of the street so that horrified members of the public could see what they had done, prosecutor Richard Whittam said at the start of the men's trial.
They deny committing what Whittam called a "cowardly and callous murder" by knocking Rigby down with a car as he crossed a street in Woolwich, southeast London, on the afternoon of May 22 before setting upon his unconscious body with a meat cleaver and knives.
"He was repeatedly stabbed and it appears it was Michael Adebolajo who made a serious and almost successful attempt to decapitate Lee Rigby with multiple blows to his neck made with the meat cleaver," Whittam said.
"They had committed a cowardly and callous murder by deliberately attacking an unarmed man in civilian clothes from behind using a vehicle as a weapon," he added.
The jury of eight women and four men was told Adebolajo, who was carrying a Koran on the day of the attack, had bought a set of five knives and a sharpener the day before. Whittam said it appeared he had picked up Adebowale, who had converted to Islam at 17, on the morning of the killing.
The court fell silent as the jury were shown closed-circuit television (CCTV) footage of the moment the Vauxhall Tigra car drove at Rigby.
GASPS IN COURT
There were gasps in the courtroom as his body was thrown onto the car's windscreen. Rigby's family were among those watching, his mother later leaving in tears.
Earlier, the court was shown CCTV footage of Rigby, who held a recruiting post and sometimes worked at the Tower of London, walking through Woolwich where his barracks was based.
He was wearing a sweatshirt emblazoned with "Help for Heroes", a military charity, and was carrying a camouflage-patterned rucksack.
Whittam told the court that witness Amanda Bailey had seen the car accelerate into Rigby before carrying him down the road and crashing into a road sign. The driver then got out carrying the cleaver.
"He knelt down by Lee Rigby and took hold of his hair. He then repeatedly hacked at the right side of his neck just below the jawline," Whittam said. "He was using considerable force, bringing his hand into the air each time before he struck."
Bailey saw him hack nine times at Rigby's neck, Whittam said. Witnesses Gary Perkins and Gill Hucks called it an "horrific frenzied attack", he added.
"He (Perkins) saw Michael Adebolajo sawing at the neck of Lee Rigby with a machete and the other man trying to cut bits of the body by hacking away at it," Whittam said. "He described the actions as being like a butcher attacking a joint of meat."
He said all witnesses had reported that Rigby appeared to be unconscious before the knife attack took place.
"EYE FOR AN EYE"
In the aftermath, Adebolajo spoke calmly to shocked passers-by, saying he would not harm women and children. The court was shown footage of Adebolajo, his hands drenched in blood, that was captured by a witness carrying a mobile phone.
"The only reason we've killed this man today is because Muslims are dying daily by British soldiers. This British soldier is one - he is an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth," Adebolajo said.
"Remove your governments. They don't care about you. Do you think (British Prime Minister) David Cameron is gonna get caught in the street when we start busting our guns?"
Britain has been the target of Islamist extremism since it joined the United States in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, most notably in the deadly London suicide bombings of July 7, 2005, carried out by four young Britons.
Whittam said there could be no political or religious justification for what the men had done.
The jury heard of the bravery of passers-by. CCTV footage showed one woman who stroked Rigby's lifeless body and others who talked to Adebolajo, despite him holding the cleaver.
It all took place yards (meters) from a junior school.
Whittam said that after the attack on Rigby the two assailants deliberately waited for the police, scaring off the public by pointing a gun at them, and the court was shown dramatic footage of the moment armed officers arrived.
Adebolajo could be seen running to the car with the cleaver raised above his head before being shot at point blank range.
Whittam said the female officer in the driving seat, unable to draw her weapon, had thought she was about to be killed.
Adebowale was then shot but raised his gun - a rusty old model that was not loaded - even after being hit and at least five shots could be heard before the three armed officers gave the men first aid.
The court heard the pair, both born in London, deny attempting to kill a police officer but have pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm.
The jury was told they use Muslim names; Mujahid Abu Hamza for Adebolajo, whose parents are Nigerian, and Ismael Ibn Abdullah for Adebowale.
"I am a Muslim extremist, this may be the only chance you meet one," Whittam said Adebolajo had told police after his arrest. "Your people have gone to Afghanistan and raped and killed our women. I am seeking retribution. I love Allah more than my children."
The two men watched silently from the dock, flanked by eight security officers. The trial is expected to last three weeks.
(Editing by Andrew Roche and Gareth Jones)