By Costas Pitas
LONDON (Reuters) - A man accused of murdering a British soldier in broad daylight on a London street told a court on Monday that he was a soldier at war and loved the Islamic militant group al Qaeda.
Michael Adebolajo, 28, is accused with co-defendant Michael Adebowale, 22, of running over Afghan war veteran Lee Rigby in Woolwich, southeast London, on May 22 before attacking his unconscious body with knives and a meat cleaver.
Adebolajo sat in the dock of London's central criminal court, the Old Bailey, just meters away from Rigby's family as he gave evidence for the first time. He told the court that he was engaged in a war against Western nations fighting in Muslim countries.
Adebolajo and Adebowale, both British citizens, have both denied murder.
"I am a soldier of Allah. I understand that some people might not recognize this because we do not wear fatigues," Adebolajo said, flanked by five prison guards in the heavily-secured courtroom.
"It's a war between Islam and those militaries that invaded Muslim lands. One of them happens to be British military and, unfortunately, the war continues to this day."
Adebolajo, who converted to Islam in 2002, said he was "disgusted" by the U.S.-led bombing and invasion of Iraq in 2003, which he had watched on television, and that a friend of his serving in the military had died during the conflict.
Adebolajo looked composed during most of his testimony, but became emotional when he told the court that he feared "hellfire" if he did not fight for Allah but remained with his wife and his six children instead.
Asked what should happen to him, Adebolajo said he considered death a possible consequence of the attack.
"I SHOULD BE KILLED"
"I should be ransomed to my mujaheed (holy fighter) brothers or I should be set free or I should be killed," Adebolajo said.
He told the hushed courtroom he had not seen his baby son since the day of his birth, just days before Rigby was murdered.
Adebolajo said that ever since his conversion he had thought he might one day end up killing a soldier, and expressed his admiration for al Qaeda.
"I love them. They are my brothers," said Adebolajo, giving his name as Mujaahid Abu Hamza. "I have never met them but I love them."
He told the jury he had tried to move to Somalia in 2010 because it embraced Islamic law, or sharia, but that he had been detained in Kenya, put on trial and brought back to Britain.
The court also heard he had prayed the night before the Woolwich attack.
"I stayed up worshipping Allah and begging him that he make the mission a success and that we strike a soldier, and a soldier only," he said.
He also told the court he had been convicted of assaulting two police officers at a demonstration in 2006 but said the officers had lied in their evidence.
The jury has been shown footage of Adebolajo with bloodied hands talking to passers-by shortly after dragging Rigby's body into the street so the public could see it.
He and Adebowale were also shown running at armed police, brandishing weapons, before being shot.
The trial is expected to last a further two weeks.
(Additional reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Belinda Goldsmith and Kevin Liffey)