Lee Rigby was everything a brave soldier ought to be. After serving his country as a machine gunner for the United Kingdom and making it home safely to his family, the future appeared bright. No one would have guessed that he would meet his untimely fate only after leaving a warzone. What transpired would shock the world, redefining terrorism in frightening ways.
Thanks to the sacrifices of the men and women of the armed forces, terrorism is kept at bay for many. When news of an attack does arise, the sting of it is often that of a distant and impersonal tragedy. When it came to the Rigby family’s experience with such sorrow, it became wholly personal. After braving Afghanistan’s peril, it seemed that brother, son, and husband, Lee Rigby, had done his share of facing the enemy. No one expected him to meet the most daunting threat of his life on the comparably safe streets back home.
A Heart for Service Lee Rigby
Lee Rigby was raised on an expansive estate in the Middleton portion of the UK. According to Rob Cooper of the Daily Mail, he had three sisters and two half-sisters and was a son to loving parents Lyn and Ian Rigby. Katie Lord, a neighbor of the Rigby’s, described him as a ‘lovely lad’. She relayed his eagerness and intentions to serve his country from a young age. Others called him a ‘good egg,’ ‘a great character,’ ‘larger than life,’ and the sort who made time for others.
Marriage to the sweetheart of his youth and the start of the career he’d longed for since childhood would seem to be a dream come true, all happening for Rigby at the ripe old age of 25.
In 2006, Rigby joined the Army, became part of the infantry, and was chosen for the corps of drums. He was overtly proud of his position, enjoying his posting outside the royal palaces fulfilling his job description.
Participation in Battles and Return Home
It was in 2009 that Rigby experienced combat for the first time. He was deployed to Helmand province, where he served as a machine gunner at an insurgent hotspot. The area in which he was stationed was thick with Taliban violence.
Ready to return home to his wife and young son waiting for him, Rigby raises a glass of beer in a photo displayed by Daily Mail. This gesture seems an appropriate salute to the life that stretched before him. He and his wife had been separated, but even this situation appeared hopeful. Rebecca Rigby was recorded to have said that they intended to discuss their future together upon her husband’s return. Matters seemed to be on the up and up for the patriotic hero. And yet, in the most disturbing and unexpected of ways, his world was turned topsy-turvy.
Murder In Broad Daylight
Compared to the battlefields of Afghanistan, Woolwich, South London, was a welcoming and refreshingly safe change of atmosphere. However, according to a BBC News report, it was on a fateful day in May of 2013 that Rigby succumbed to the worst threat of his life. Raffaello Pantucci of the Guardian records that he was on his way back to his barracks on a day that appeared altogether ordinary. It quickly turned into a nightmare. Many crimes are undertaken beneath the cloak of night or some other method of concealment. When Rigby met his end, the act was committed blatantly in broad daylight. The world looked on in utter devastation.
Video footage included in coverage by 5 News documents the moments leading up to Rigby’s murder, followed by an immediate response from one of the two men involved. In the surveillance video, Rigby is seen crossing the street in front of an oncoming car. Nothing appears amiss until the vehicle swerves suddenly and deliberately, knocking Rigby to the ground. The damage to the vehicle’s front end shows how hard the soldier was hit, and he lies motionless on the street. This isn’t very good on its own. Yet, the situation grew brutally worse when a man jumped out of the car and hacked at Rigby’s still frame with a machete.
Unveiling the Shocking Confession and Gruesome Display
The two men involved were identified as Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale. They didn’t run. There was no need to coax a reluctant confession from the killers. Abedolajo volunteered his logic behind the murder willingly, speaking loudly for all to hear as an onlooker recorded his speech on a cell phone:
The declaration that served as immediate and sickly justification for his actions was made all. At the same time, Adebolajo’s hands dripped with so much of Rigby’s blood that his hands were blurred from sight in the video footage.
But the killers weren’t finished. Continuing their blatant display, Adebolajo and Adebowale dragged their dead victim into the middle of the street. They walked back and forth in front of Rigby’s dead body, “smirking,” according to one witness. They didn’t try to hide but seemed to be begging for the police to come. When they did, Adebolajo leaped into yet another act of boldness.
Lee Rigby’s Death and Police Assistance
The scene played out in the slightly grainy video footage leaves the viewer speechless. So unbelievable and bold are the guilty man’s actions. Adebolajo is seen charging the police car, a machete brandished high. The oddly primitive spectacle of unfettered, brutal intention lasts a few chilling moments. He makes it extremely close to the police car before the officer’s open fire. Though the violence of the actual shooting is obscured from viewers, the shouts of confusion and fear from bystanders punctuate the moment’s chaos.
As swiftly as possible, the police subdued Adebolajo and Adebowale, ending the shocking display. The two men had been out to make a scene and succeeded in the most gut-wrenching way possible.
Rigby died of his stab wounds after the attack.
The bold and taunting nature of Abebolajo and Adebowale’s attack on a passing soldier presents a burning question: why Rigby? How did they know that he’d been in their line of sight that day? The answer is that Abebolajo and Adebowale didn’t know. They weren’t targeting Rigby specifically. It was nothing personal, yet the consequences would become excessively so for both Rigby and his family.
Abedolajo’s interview with police a week after Rigby’s murder shed a disturbing light on the ‘logic’ leading up to the deadly act. Head hidden beneath a blanket as he slumps forward in his chair, the murderer resembles a guilty pup with his tail between his legs. However, the matter-of-factness with which he explains to the police why he and his partner had selected the unsuspecting Rigby that day is a far cry from puppy dog innocence.
Why Lee Rigby?
On the day of the murder, Abebolajo and Adebowale were waiting for the perfect opportunity to make a violent statement. Abebolajo said they saw Rigby and agreed he was “the fairest target because he joins the army with kind of an understanding that your life is at risk when you join the army.” The reasoning is bone-chilling and provides an insightful glance into the mindset of terrorism.
Any soldier who passed would have served their purpose.
Adebolajo further sought to justify his unforgivable actions by referring to himself as “a soldier of Allah.” This was enough for the killer and, indeed, for fellow terrorists as well, but it was far from a good line of reasoning for Rigby’s grief-stricken family. In a video aired by 5 News, Rigby’s father says, “They’re using religion as an excuse for whatever they’ve been brainwashed with.”
A further look into the details of Adebolajo and Adebowale’s lives supported this assessment and revealed the ideology behind their cold-blooded actions.
Highly orchestrated events like 9/11 or the 2008 Mumbai attack dominate the public’s view of Terrorism. But, The Guardian relays that Rigby’s unjust death made the fact that Terrorism did not need to be complicated frighteningly clear. No bomb. No complex planning. Just a sharp blade. Adebolajo and Adebowale’s murder method brought attention to an underlying avenue of Terrorism that had been largely overlooked. This low-tech approach strategically avoided detection by the surveillance the UK had employed to stop technology-dependent attacks in the past. The thwarting of the 2006 airlines plot and the halt brought to a double car bombing in London the following year are only two examples of acts of successfully blocked Terrorism. The goal generally seemed to be large-scale destruction that involved some planning.
However, a closer look revealed that Adebolajo and Adebowale’s hands-on approach and targeting of a single person is not new. The case of Roshonara Choudhry’s attack on Stephen Timms for supporting the war in Iraq a few years earlier is one example of an act of Terrorism that broke the commonly perceived mold, the same as the terrorist act against Rigby.
The shaping of Adebolajo and Adebowale’s terrorist mindsets is inextricably woven into the years leading up to their ultimate violence against Lee Rigby. Their passion had been carefully cultivated by the al-Muhajiroun network, equipping them with boldness when the time came to demonstrate their radicalism. There was nothing sudden about their extremism.
Adebolajo started young, having been connected with the al-Muhajiroun community since 19. It wasn’t until 2008 that his penchant for terrorism became public.
During the subsequent years, he made a name for himself and was referred to by Brusthom Ziamani, a young man who later attempted his act of terrorism unsuccessfully as a ‘legend.’ He was a legend, alright–a legend of destruction and madness.
The details of Adebowale’s background were equally incriminating. He started a dangerous path early, having been placed in a young offender institution when connected with a narcotics situation during his youth. When he was released, he donned Islamic robes, an outward expression of the increased seriousness of his devotion to Islam. In the time that followed, he became deeply entrenched in al-Mahajiroun activism. He publicly appeared at protests and events and loudly opposed the cameras.
Looking back, the progression of these two men from radical followers to calloused and barbaric terrorists is bone-chillingly traceable.
The Memory of a Devoted Soldier, Lee Rigby
The heartbreaking aftermath of Rigby’s unjust death remains in the hearts of those around the world, but most poignantly in those of his family. Daily Mail records the loving statement of Rigby’s wife during a press conference: “I love Lee and always will… He was a devoted father to our son Jack, and we will both miss him terribly.”
Little Jack was only two at the time of his father’s death. A teddy bear, dressed in soldier garb and gifted to the young boy by Rigby before his murder, sits beside a family photograph. It is a beautiful testament to the young man’s legacy as a son, father, husband, and defender of his country. His kin further echoed the sentiment in the following statement: “We loved you so much, you didn’t deserve this.”