Michael Adebowale

Michael Oluwatobi Adebowale is a British-Nigerian convert to Islam and convicted terrorist who, together with Michael Adebolajo, carried out the beheading of Fusilier Lee Rigby near Rigby’s barracks in Woolwich, southeast London, on May 22, 2013. Adebowale was sentenced to a minimum of 45 years in jail after being found guilty by a British court in February 2015.Mr. Justice Sweeney, “Sentencing remarks of Mr. Justice Sweeney,” Judiciary of England and Wales, February 26, 2014, https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/JCO/Documents/Judgments/adebolajo-adebowale-sentencing-remarks.pdf. Adebowale is believed to have been inspired in part by Anwar al-Awlaki, the al-Qaeda cleric who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen in 2011.Vikram Dodd and Daniel Howden, “Woolwich murder: what drove two men to kill a soldier in the street?” Guardian (London), December 19, 2013, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2013/dec/19/woolwich-murder-soldier-street-adebolajo-radicalised-kenya.

Five months before the murder, Adebowale expressed on his Facebook account his “intent to murder a soldier in the most graphic and emotive manner…”Peter Dominiczak, Tom Whitehead, Martin Evans, and Gordon Rayner, “Facebook could have prevented Lee Rigby’s murder,” Telegraph (London), November 26, 2014, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/terrorism-in-the-uk/11253518/Facebook-could-have-prevented-Lee-Rigby-murder.html. In a 2014 investigation, the U.K. Parliament’s intelligence and security committee (ISC) criticized Facebook for its lack of vigilance.Vikram Dodd, Ewen MacAskill, and Patrick Wintour, “Lee Rigby murder: Facebook could have picked up killers message – report,” Guardian (London), November 26, 2014, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/nov/25/lee-rigby-murder-internet-firm-could-have-picked-up-killers-message-report-says. The ISC report noted that Facebook had shut down Adebowale’s account because he had discussed terrorism, but failed to pass on any information to British authorities.Peter Dominiczak, Tom Whitehead, Martin Evans, and Gordon Rayner, “Facebook could have prevented Lee Rigby’s murder,” Telegraph (London), November 26, 2014, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/terrorism-in-the-uk/11253518/Facebook-could-have-prevented-Lee-Rigby-murder.html. According to an officer of Government Communications Headquarters (GCQH), the British intelligence apparatus responsible for providing signals intelligence, Facebook did not pick up Adebowale’s specific threat to kill a soldier because “[t]hat didn’t meet their criteria [for closure].”Peter Dominiczak, Tom Whitehead, Martin Evans, and Gordon Rayner, “Facebook could have prevented Lee Rigby’s murder,” Telegraph (London), November 26, 2014, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/terrorism-in-the-uk/11253518/Facebook-could-have-prevented-Lee-Rigby-murder.html. ISC Chairman Malcolm Rifkind added, “This company [Facebook] does not regard themselves as under any obligation to ensure that they identify such threats, or to report them to the authorities. We find this unacceptable: however unintentionally, they are providing a safe haven for terrorists.”Vikram Dodd, Ewen MacAskill, and Patrick Wintour, “Lee Rigby murder: Facebook could have picked up killers message – report,” Guardian (London), November 26, 2014, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/nov/25/lee-rigby-murder-internet-firm-could-have-picked-up-killers-message-report-says.

On the morning of May 22, 2013, Adebowale and Adebolajo decided to kill the first soldier they encountered in the name of their radical Islamist agenda. After seeing Fusilier Lee Rigby wearing a “Help For Heroes” sweater, they ran him over in their Vauxhall Tigris car. While Rigby lay prone and stunned on the floor, Adebolajo attempted to decapitate the soldier, and Adebowale stabbed him with a meat cleaver repeatedly and “with severe force” in the torso, according to the presiding judge.Mr. Justice Sweeney, “Sentencing remarks of Mr. Justice Sweeney,” Judiciary of England and Wales, February 26, 2014, https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/JCO/Documents/Judgments/adebolajo-adebowale-sentencing-remarks.pdf;
Tom Whitehead, “Drummer Lee Rigby was ‘Hacked like a Joint of Meat’ in ‘Barbarous and Cowardly Killing’, Court Hears,” Telegraph (London), November 29, 2013, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/terrorism-in-the-uk/10485460/Drummer-Lee-Rigby-was-hacked-like-a-joint-of-meat-in-barbarous-and-cowardly-killing-court-hears.html.
Adebolajo then talked into the smartphone camera of a passing pedestrian to justify the murder.Vikram Dodd and Daniel Howden, “Woolwich murder: what drove two men to kill a soldier in the street?” Guardian (London), December 19, 2013, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2013/dec/19/woolwich-murder-soldier-street-adebolajo-radicalised-kenya. Once the police arrived at the scene, Adebowale brandished a gun and a knife and pointed the gun at the officers, who shot at Adebowale and hit his thumb.Mr. Justice Sweeney, “Sentencing remarks of Mr. Justice Sweeney,” Judiciary of England and Wales, February 26, 2014, https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/JCO/Documents/Judgments/adebolajo-adebowale-sentencing-remarks.pdf;
Vikram Dodd and Daniel Howden, “Woolwich murder: what drove two men to kill a soldier in the street?” Guardian (London), December 19, 2013, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2013/dec/19/woolwich-murder-soldier-street-adebolajo-radicalised-kenya.
Effectively neutralized, Adebowale was arrested and taken into custody.Vikram Dodd and Daniel Howden, “Woolwich murder: what drove two men to kill a soldier in the street?” Guardian (London), December 19, 2013, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2013/dec/19/woolwich-murder-soldier-street-adebolajo-radicalised-kenya.

Adebowale was known to British authorities prior to the murder of Lee Rigby. In 2008, a British court sentenced Adebowale to 15 months in prison for dealing drugs to his predominantly Somali gang known as the Woolwich Boys.Vikram Dodd and Daniel Howden, “Woolwich murder: what drove two men to kill a soldier in the street?” Guardian, December 19, 2013, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2013/dec/19/woolwich-murder-soldier-street-adebolajo-radicalised-kenya;
Paul Peachey, Jonathan Brown, Kim Sengupta, “Lee Rigby murder: How killers Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale became ultra-violent radicals,” Independent (London): December 19, 2013, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/lee-rigby-murder-how-killers-michael-adebolajo-and-michael-adebowale-became-ultra-violent-radicals-9015743.html.
Adebowale is believed to have converted from Christianity to Islam in or around 2009.Mr. Justice Sweeney, “Sentencing remarks of Mr. Justice Sweeney,” Judiciary of England and Wales, February 26, 2014, https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/JCO/Documents/Judgments/adebolajo-adebowale-sentencing-remarks.pdf;
Vikram Dodd and Daniel Howden, “Woolwich murder: what drove two men to kill a soldier in the street?” Guardian (London), December 19, 2013, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2013/dec/19/woolwich-murder-soldier-street-adebolajo-radicalised-kenya.
He reportedly attended rallies held by successor groups to al-Muhajiroun—an Islamist organization founded by Anjem Choudary and Omar Bakri Muhammad—including one outside the U.S. embassy in London in September 2012.Vikram Dodd and Daniel Howden, “Woolwich murder: what drove two men to kill a soldier in the street?” Guardian (London), December 19, 2013, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2013/dec/19/woolwich-murder-soldier-street-adebolajo-radicalised-kenya.

In or around April 2017, Adebowale was transferred from the category “A” prison at Wakefield to the high-security psychiatric hospital at Broadmoor, a “softer” facility that costs five times more money per prisoner to operate, because he was refusing to accept medical treatment at Wakefield.Fiona Simpson, “Lee Rigby killer Michael Adebowale moved from high-security prison to ‘softer’ Broadmoor,” Evening Standard (London), April 5, 2017, http://www.standard.co.uk/news/crime/lee-rigby-killer-michael-adebowale-moved-from-highsecurity-prison-to-softer-broadmoor-a3507591.html. In January 2021, Adebowale was hospitalized after he contracted COVID-19.“Lee Rigby killer Michael Adebowale in hospital with Covid-19,” BBC News, January 25, 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-london-55794995. He returned to Broadmoor in February 2021.Tom Wells, “Lee Rigby’s killer Michael Adebowale, 29, back in Broadmoor after battling Covid in hospital,” Sun, February 2, 2021, https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/uknews/13925813/lee-rigby-killer-michael-adebowale-covid-hospital/.

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