Two men convicted of brutally murdering a British off-duty soldier last year on a London street were sentenced today — one to life imprisonment without parole and the other to a 45-year minimum term — following a killing that shocked the British public and ignited an anti-Islamic backlash.

hi-lee-rigby-852.jpg

Lee Rigby, 25, was attacked and killed by two men in the Woolwich area of London on May 23, 2013. His murderers were expected to be sentenced on Wednesday, and face life imprisonment. (Associated Press)

Supporters of the family of slain British soldier Lee Rigby, who was run down by a car on a busy London street last year before he was hacked to death, erupted in cheers when they learned one of his killers will spend the rest of his life in prison and the other will not have a chance to seek parole until at least 2059.

CBC's Jeff Semple, reporting from outside the Old Bailey courthouse, said some 200 people were awaiting the sentences in the Rigby case.

Two British Muslim converts — 29-year-old Michael Adebolajo and 22-year-old Michael Adebowale — were convicted last December of the murder of the 25-year-old serviceman.

Adebolajo received the maximum sentence available, a whole-life term, which means he will never have a chance to seek release. Adebowale was sentenced to serving a minimum of 45 years before he is eligible for parole, meaning he will be 67 years old by that time.

'Eye for an eye'

Imposition of the whole-life term is rare. Protesters had been demanding the death penalty.

The two convicted murderers were sentenced in their absence after being dragged down to the cells for brawling with security guards in the dock as the judge opened his sentencing remarks.

'I know my son will grow up and see images of his dad that no son should have to endure'- Rebecca Rigby, widow of slain soldier Lee Rigby, in her victim impact statement

Asked before the sentencing if a whole-life term would be enough, Rigby's widow, Rebecca, said no sentence — no matter how harsh — would ever bring her husband back.

A spokesman for the Rigby family, Peter Sparks, read a statement to the press shortly after the sentences were announced.

"The Rigby family welcomes the whole-life and significant sentences that have been passed down on Lee's killers," he said. "We feel that no other sentence would have been acceptable and we would like to thank the judge and the courts for handing down what we believe to be the right prison terms."

Rigby was crossing the road to his barracks on May 22, 2013, when Adebolajo and Adebowale struck him with their vehicle, then used a meat cleaver and a knife to try to behead him in the streets.

hi-rigby-edl-852.jpg

A supporter of the English Defence League stands by a replica hangman's noose and gallows during a protest outside a London courthouse. Protesters are calling for two men convicted of murdering British soldier Lee Rigby to be sentenced to death. (Toby Melville/Reuters)

Much of the gruesome murder was captured by bystanders using cellphone cameras, as well as on surveillance footage.

As for a motive, Semple said the killers had told a court they were exacting revenge for the deaths of innocent Muslims abroad.

"It was in their words, 'A eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,'" Semple said, adding that the killers had viewed themselves to be "soldiers for Allah, and that this was justice as they saw it."

In her victim impact statement, Rigby's widow, Rebecca, said one of the most devastating impacts of her husband's death will be how it will affect their child, who is only three years old.

"I know my son will grow up and see images of his dad that no son should have to endure," she said.

With files from Reuters