On the afternoon of 22 May 2013, a British Army soldier was killed, 25-year-old Lee Rigby, a drummer in the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. Rigby, from Middleton, Greater Manchester, had served in Cyprus, Germany, and Afghanistan before becoming a recruiter and assisting with duties in the Tower of London. He was attacked when he was returning to barracks from working at the Tower. Rigby married in 2007 and had a two-year-old son, but had separated from his wife. He was engaged. A post-mortem examination of Rigby showed that he died from “multiple incised wounds”. Rigby supported the Help for Heroes charity and was wearing a top supporting the charity when he was attacked. In the five days following his death the charity received over £600,000 in donations.
The attack took place shortly before 14:20 in Wellington Street, and near its junction with John Wilson Street, part of the South Circular Road (A205) in Woolwich, near the perimeter of the Royal Artillery Barracks where Rigby was stationed. Two assailants, later identified as Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, drove a car at Rigby, knocking him to the pavement.
The assailants then attacked and killed Rigby with knives and a cleaver, and attempted to behead his body. Witnesses stated that the assailants shouted “Allahu Akbar” during the attack. Immediately after the attack, a handful of women stood over Rigby’s body, trying to protect him from further injury. Ingrid Loyau-Kennett, a cub scout leader from Cornwall, was one of the people at the scene.
She disembarked from a passing bus, with the intention of rendering first aid, when she saw what she thought to be a road accident. On discovering that Rigby was dead, and that a murder had apparently taken place, she engaged one of the assailants in conversation. The man said that he was responsible for killing the man on the ground – a British soldier who the attacker claimed had “killed Muslims in Iraq and in Afghanistan.” She asked one of the men to hand over his weapons, but he refused.
One of the assailants, Michael Adebolajo, justified the attack to a bystander videoing the scene, according to a Daily Telegraph transcript: “The only reason we have killed this man today is because Muslims are dying daily by British soldiers. And this British soldier is one. … By Allah, we swear by the almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you until you leave us alone. So what if we want to live by the Sharia in Muslim lands? Why does that mean you must follow us and chase us and call us extremists and kill us? … When you drop a bomb do you think it hits one person? Or rather your bomb wipes out a whole family? … Through [many passages in the] Koran we must fight them as they fight us. … I apologise that women had to witness this today but in our lands women have to see the same. You people will never be safe. Remove your governments, they don’t care about you. You think David Cameron is going to get caught in the street when we start busting our guns? You think politicians are going to die? No, it’s going to be the average guy, like you and your children. So get rid of them. Tell them to bring our troops back so we can, so you can all live in peace.”
Regular unarmed police arrived at the scene nine minutes after an emergency call was received and set up a cordon. Armed police officers arrived five minutes later. The assailants, armed with a gun and cleaver, charged at the police, who fired shots that wounded them both. They were apprehended and taken to separate hospitals. Both are British of Nigerian descent who were raised as Christians and converted to Islam. The attack was condemned by political and Muslim leaders in the United Kingdom and in the worldwide press. In the aftermath, anti-Muslim reprisal attacks have been reported across the UK.