LONDON: Prime Minister Boris Johnson vowed yesterday to review Britain’s sentencing system after a convicted terrorist released early from prison was suspected of stabbing two people to death in an attack around London Bridge. Police shot and killed Usman Khan after his suspected assault that seriously injured three other people was broken up by bystanders – one armed with a 1.5-m narwhal tusk and another a fire extinguisher.
Video footage of the confrontation showed Khan, 28, being challenged by a man, reportedly a Polish chef, wielding the tusk – believed to have been taken from a nearby historic hall – and sprayed with the extinguisher. He had been conditionally released from jail last December after serving less than half of a 16-year prison sentence for terrorism, and was wearing a suspected fake explosive device. Moments later armed police officers arrived on the scene and shot him dead. Investigators have said they are not actively seeking others in relation to the incident, which recalled a three-man terrorist assault two years ago on London Bridge that killed eight.
HH the Amir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah sent yesterday a cable of condolences to Queen of Britain Elizabeth II and Prime Minister Johnson. In the cable, the Amir expressed to the Queen and the prime minister his deepest sorrow on the incident. Sheikh Sabah strongly condemned the attack against innocent civilians, displaying support to all British efforts to protect citizens as well as maintaining stability and security in the UK.
HH the Amir also expressed solidarity with the British leadership and people against such heinous acts and wished for the swift recovery of those wounded in the incident. HH the Crown Prince Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah and HH the Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled Al-Hamad Al-Sabah sent similar cables to Queen Elizabeth and Johnson.
Kuwait’s foreign ministry also strongly denounced on Friday the deadly stabbing attack. As part of Kuwait’s principled stand against all forms of violence and terrorism, an official of the ministry stated support to whatever measures the UK might take to protect its security. The source expressed sincere condolences to the families of the victims and wished the wounded quick recovery.
The latest attack came less than two weeks before Britain’s general election, and politicians temporarily suspended campaigning. “It does not make sense for us as a society to be putting people who have been convicted of terrorist offences… out on early release,” Johnson said as he visited the scene. “We argue that people should serve the tariff, serve the term, of which they are sentenced,” the prime minister added, noting the Conservatives’ manifesto calls for a tougher sentencing regime.
Khan, a British national from Stoke in central England, was handed an indeterminate sentence for public protection in 2012, with at least eight years in prison. He was part of an eight-man network inspired by Al-Qaeda who had plotted to bomb targets including the London Stock Exchange, and planned to take part in “terrorist training” in Pakistan. But his sentence was quashed by the Court of Appeal in April 2013 and he received a new 21-year term, comprising a custodial sentence of 16 years and five years on conditional release.
Police yesterday were reportedly searching a property in Stafford, in central England, thought to be connected to Khan. Police believe he began the attack at Fishmonger’s Hall, a historic building said to contain many ancient artifacts on the north side of the bridge. Khan was attending an event organized by the University of Cambridge’s criminology institute on prisoner rehabilitation, and reportedly arrived with two knives and the fake suicide vest.
The Metropolitan Police appealed for witnesses to come forward. As the attack moved to London Bridge, a throng of people could be seen in videos grappling with Khan on a pedestrian walkway. They reportedly included a convicted killer on day-release from prison and other ex-offenders also attending the criminology event. Tour guide Stevie Hurst told BBC radio that “everyone was just on top of him trying to bundle him to the ground”. “I saw that the knife was still in his hand so I just put a foot in to try and kick him in the head,” he said.
One man in a suit and tie – identified by media as a police officer – was later seen carrying a large knife away. “As we saw the worst of human kind, we saw the very best of human spirit and London,” Met Commissioner Cressida Dick said yesterday as she visited London Bridge. On Nov 4, Britain downgraded its terrorism threat level from “severe”, the second-highest of five levels, to “substantial” – the lowest rating in more than five years.
Attention has swiftly turned to how Khan could have been released from prison after serving less than seven years of his sentence. Inmates are usually released half-way through the type of determinate sentence he was given, and time spent in custody before trial may have been taken into account. The Parole Board said it had no involvement in his release and that it appeared to have happened automatically as required by law. During the attack, Khan wore an electronic tag used to monitor criminal offenders, The Times newspaper reported.
Johnson, who took over as prime minister in July, said the cases of other convicted terrorists released early were under urgent review. “A great deal of work is being done right now to make sure that the public is protected,” he added. Queen Elizabeth II said she and husband Prince Philip had been saddened to hear of the attack and expressed her “enduring thanks” to the “brave individuals who put their own lives at risk to selflessly help and protect others”. The 2017 London Bridge attack involved Islamist extremists wearing fake suicide devices ploughing a van into pedestrians, before attacking people with knives in nearby Borough Market and being shot dead by police. – Agencies