LONDON (Reuters) - A man accused of murdering a British soldier in broad daylight on a London street described himself in court on Monday as a soldier at war and said he loved the Islamic militant group al Qaeda.
Michael Adebolajo, 28, is accused with 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 metres away from Rigby's family as he gave evidence for the first time. He told the court he was engaged in a war against Western nations fighting in Muslim countries.
Adebolajo and Adebowale, both British citizens, have denied murder.
"I am a soldier of Allah. I understand that some people might not recognise 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 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.
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.
Rigby's widow Rebecca walked out of court in tears shortly after Adebolajo described how the soldier was still moving after having been hit by the suspects' car.
Adebolajo went on to describe striking at Rigby's neck until he was dead and showed no remorse for the attack.
During cross-examination by prosecutor Richard Whittam, Adebolajo also told how the pair did not hunt out Rigby specifically.
"It just so happened that Allah caused him to cross my car," he told the court.
Adebolajo said that ever since his conversion during his first year at university 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.
Adebolajo, who grew up in a Christian family, used to attend church every Sunday with his parents, brother and sister and recounted reading passages from the Bible each New Year's Eve with his family, the court heard.
Adebolajo 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 trial is expected to last a further two weeks.
Additional reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Belinda Goldsmith and Ralph Boulton