LONDON -- Two men accused of the first terrorist killing on British soil in years pleaded not guilty Friday to murdering a young soldier who was brutally hacked to death outside his barracks in May.
The attack on Fusilier Lee Rigby stunned Britons for its savagery and for the Islamist political rant delivered by one of the suspected killers, Michael Adebolajo, who held a large knife dripping with blood as an onlooker filmed his diatribe.
Adebolajo, 28, declared that the slaying was retribution for the killings of Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan at the hands of the British military. Minutes later, Adebolajo and his alleged accomplice, Michael Adebowale, 22, were shot and arrested by police.
Both suspects are British citizens of Nigerian descent.
The pair appeared in a London court by video link Friday from the prison where they are being held. They pleaded not guilty to charges of murder, conspiracy to murder and the attempted murder of a police officer who responded to the May 22 assault. A trial has been set for November.
Rigby’s death was the first killing in Britain apparently motivated by radical Islam since 2005, when 52 people died in coordinated suicide bombings on the London transport system. Scotland Yard has since broken up a number of alleged terrorist cells and thwarted suspected plots to commit mass killings, but the attack on Rigby, which occurred in broad daylight, raised fears of hard-to-prevent “lone wolf” operations.
Rigby, 25, a drummer and machine gunner with the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, was walking back to his barracks from a shift at the historic Tower of London when he was knocked over by a car and then slashed repeatedly as he lay on the ground.
A man identified as Adebolajo then spouted Islamist ideology at horrified bystanders.
“You people will never be safe! Remove your government. They don’t care about you,” he said in a screed caught on video.
Authorities say that Adebolajo and Adebowale were both carrying guns. Police shot them as the pair advanced in a threatening manner.
Prime Minister David Cameron said afterward that the killing raised “some tough questions about what is happening in our country.”
“It is as if, for some young people, there is a conveyor belt to radicalization that has poisoned their minds with sick and perverted ideas. We need to dismantle this process at every stage -- in schools, colleges, universities, on the Internet, in our prisons, wherever it is taking place,” said Cameron, who has appointed a task force to look into the problem.
A parliamentary panel is also investigating whether the attack on Rigby was preventable.