A person is assisted after falling when Police evacuated people from Borough Market on the south side of London Bridge in London, Friday, Nov. 29, 2019. British police say several people have stabbed near to London Bridge, and a man has been detained. The news came after witnesses reported hearing gunshots in the area. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

A person is assisted after falling when Police evacuated people from Borough Market on the south side of London Bridge in London, Friday, Nov. 29, 2019. British police say several people have stabbed near to London Bridge, and a man has been detained. The news came after witnesses reported hearing gunshots in the area. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

Focus on early release of terror convict in London bridge stabbings

Police said Usman Khan was convicted in 2012 of terrorism offences and released in December 2018

Usman Khan was convicted on terrorism charges but let out of prison early. He attended a “Learning Together” conference for ex-offenders, and used the event to launch a bloody attack, stabbing two people to death and wounding three others.

Police shot him dead after he flashed what seemed to be a suicide vest. Khan is gone, but the questions remain: Why was he let out early? Did authorities believe he no longer believed in radical Islam? Why didn’t the conditions imposed on his release prevent the carnage?

Britons looked for answers Saturday as national politicians sought to pin the blame elsewhere for what was obviously a breakdown in the security system, which had kept London largely free of terror for more than two years.

Police said Khan was convicted in 2012 of terrorism offences and released in December 2018 “on license,” which means he had to meet certain conditions or face recall to prison. Several British media outlets reported that he was wearing an electronic ankle bracelet that allowed police to track his movements at the time of the attack.

Authorities seemed quick to blame “the system” rather than any one component.

The Parole Board said it had played no role in Khan’s early release. It said the convict “appears to have been released automatically on license (as required by law), without ever being referred to the board.”

Neil Basu, the Metropolitan Police counterterrorism police, said Saturday afternoon that the conditions of Khan’s release had been complied with. He didn’t spell out what those conditions were or why they failed to prevent him from killing two people.

The automatic release program apparently means no agency was given the task of determining if Khan still believed in radical views he had embraced when he was first imprisoned for plotting to attack a number of sites and individuals in London.

It is not yet known whether he took part in any of the “de-radicalization” programs used by British authorities to try and reform known jihadis.

The former head of Britain’s National Counter Terrorism Security Office, Chris Phillips, said it is unreasonable to ask police and security services to keep the country safe while at the same time letting people out of prison when they are still a threat.

ALSO READ: London police shoot suspect dead after ‘terrorist’ stabbings

“We’re playing Russian roulette with people’s lives, letting convicted, known, radicalized jihadi criminals walk about our streets,” he said.

Khan had been convicted as part of an al-Qaida linked group that was accused of plotting to target major sites including Parliament, the U.S. Embassy and individuals including Prime Minister Boris Johnson, then the mayor of London, the dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London and two rabbis.

Khan admitted to a lesser charge of engaging in conduct for the preparation of acts of terrorism. He had been secretly taped plotting attacks and talking about martyrdom as a possibility.

Khan and his accomplices had links to radical preacher Anjem Choudar, one of the highest-profile faces of radical Islam in Britain. A mobile phone seized at the time contained material related to a banned group that Choudary founded. The preacher was released from prison in 2018 but is under heavy surveillance and a curfew.

Several people who attended Choudary’s rallies when he was under no controls have been convicted of attacks, including the two al-Qaida-inspired killers who ran over British soldier Lee Rigby and stabbed him to death in 2013.

The two chief contenders in the Dec. 12 election — Johnson and Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn — condemned the system Saturday.

Johnson, who visited the scene Saturday, said he had “long argued” that it was a “mistake to allow serious and violent criminals to come out of prison early.” He said the criminal justice system “simply isn’t working.”

Corbyn said it is not clear if the Probation Office was involved at all and questioned whether the Parole Board should have been given a role.

“We have to ensure that the public are safe,” he said. “That means supervision of prisoners in prison but it also means supervision of ex-prisoners when they are released ahead of the completion of their sentence, to have tough supervision of them to make sure this kind of danger is not played out on the public in the future.”

He stopped short of blaming Johnson, who was not in office when Khan was set free.

Police said 28-year-old Khan was attending a program that works to educate prisoners when he launched Friday’s attack just yards from the site of a deadly 2017 van and knife rampage.

Basu, the top counterterrorism police office, said the suspect appeared to be wearing a bomb vest but it turned out to be “a hoax explosive device.” He said police believe Khan was acting alone.

One of the victims was named in British media reports as Jack Merritt, a graduate of Cambridge University who was helping organize the conference where the attack began. His father David Merritt tweeted that his son had been killed and had a “beautiful spirit.”

Basu said he could not name the victims until they had been formally identified by the coroner. He asked the public for help with video, photos and information about the attack.

Health officials said two of the wounded were stable and the third had less serious injuries. A victim who had been in critical condition has improved and is now listed as stable, officials said.

Police on Saturday were searching an apartment block in Stafford, 150 miles (240 kilometres) northwest of London, for clues. Khan was believed to have lived in the area after his release from prison. Police also conducted searches in Stoke-on-Trent.

Learning Together, a Cambridge University-backed prison education program, was holding a conference at the hall when the attack started.

Footage from the attack showed several passers-by — including one armed with a narwhal tusk apparently taken from the hall and another with a fire extinguisher — fighting with the suspect before police arrived.

Queen Elizabeth II said in a statement that she and her husband, Prince Philip, were sending their thoughts to everyone affected by the “terrible violence.” She thanked police and emergency services “as well as the brave individuals who put their own lives at risk to selflessly help and protect others.”

Security officials earlier this month had downgraded Britain’s terrorism threat level from “severe” to “substantial,” which means an attack is seen as “likely” rather than “highly likely.” The assessment was made by the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre, an independent expert body that evaluates intelligence, terrorist capability and intentions.

It was based in part on a judgment that the threat of extremists returning from Syria to launch attacks in Britain had been slightly reduced.

Gregory Katz, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Marchers supporting Indian farmers rallied in Surrey last month, from Bear Creek Park to Holland Park along King George Boulevard. (File photo: Tom Zillich)
Surrey MP says mayor’s motion to support Indian farmers is his to make

“He has his own sovereignty, right,” Sukh Dhaliwal says

Lord Tweedsmuir’s Tremmel States-Jones jumps a player and the goal line to score a touchdown against the Kelowna Owls in 2019. The face of high school football, along with a majority of other high school sports, could significantly change if a new governance proposal is passed at the B.C. School Sports AGM May 1. (Photo: Malin Jordan)
Power struggle: New governance model proposed for B.C. high school sports

Most commissions against new model; BCSS and its board in favour

Researchers say residents should leave sleeping bats alone while they exit hibernation. (Cathy Koot photo)
Spring ‘signal’ brings White Rock, Surrey bats out of hibernation

Community Bat Programs of BC says it’s best to leave sleeping bats alone

(Photo: Creative Outlet)
YOUR MONEY: Tax tips for a complicated tax season involving CERB and more

With April 30 tax deadline, ‘it is important to understand the tax implications (benefits) will have’

The Delta Police Department’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Unit: (from left) Const. Joel Thirsk, analyst Jody Johnson and Staff Sgt. Sukh Sidhu. (Delta Police Department photo)
Delta police respond to rising number of hate crimes

Police have received 15 reports so far in 2021, compared to 12 in all of 2020

A woman wears a protective face covering to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as she walks past the emergency entrance of Vancouver General Hospital in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Top doctor warns B.C.’s daily cases could reach 3,000 as COVID hospitalizations surge

There are more than 400 people in hospital, with 125 of them in ICU

The father of Aaliyah Rosa planted a tree and laid a plaque in her memory in 2018. (Langley Advance Times files)
Final witness will extend Langley child murder trial into May or June

Lengthy trial began last autumn with COVID and other factors forcing it to take longer than expected

The corner of 96th Avenue and Glover Road in Fort Langley now has traffic signals, and new “touchless” signal activation buttons. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance Times)
Busy Fort Langley intersection gets ‘touchless’ crosswalk signals

The new traffic light started operation in April

A crossing guard stops traffic as students wearing face masks to curb the spread of COVID-19 arrive at Ecole Woodward Hill Elementary School, in Surrey, B.C., on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. A number of schools in the Fraser Health region, including Woodward Hill, have reported cases of the B.1.7.7 COVID-19 variant first detected in the U.K. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
COVID-infected students in Lower Mainland schools transmitting to 1 to 2 others: data

Eight to 13 per cent of COVID cases among students in the Lower Mainland were acquired in schools, B.C. says

Dr. Bonnie Henry – in a B.C. health order that went into effect April 12 – granted WorkSafe inspectors the power to enforce workplace closures with COVID-19 spread. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
24 workplace closures being enforced in Fraser Health under new COVID-19 order

WorkSafe inspectors the power to enforce closures if COVID-19 has spread to 3 or more employees

Maple Ridge Fire and Rescue were conducting training operations at Gold Creek Falls when a firefighter broke their leg. (Eileen Robinson photo - Special to The News)
Firefighter suffers broken leg during swift water rescue practice in Golden Ears park

A training exercise at Maple Ridge waterfall on Wedesday results in mishap

Norm Scott, president of Royal Canadian Legion Branch # 91, is disappointed the Legion does not qualify for COVID financial assistance from the provincial government. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C.’s pandemic aid package passing Legion branches by

Federal non-profit status stymies provincial assistance eligibility

Latest modelling by public health shows cases generated by COVID-19 infections into places where it can spread quickly. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
Industrial sites, pubs, restaurants driving COVID-19 spread in B.C.

Infection risk higher in offices, retail, warehouses, farms

Most Read