Officials release latest details of attackers
LONDON | A Pakistan-born failed customer service clerk with links to one of Europe’s most prolific hate preachers. A Moroccan pastry chef whose partner said he once went swimming rather than see his daughter. An Italian national who told authorities he “wanted to be a terrorist.”
New details emerged Tuesday of the suspected perpetrators of the latest terror strike, with at least two of the men behind Saturday’s rampage on London Bridge known to British intelligence and law enforcement officials. That raised questions about whether more could have been done to stop the attack, which began Saturday when the men drove a rented van into a crowd and then leaped out to stab people who crossed their paths. Seven were killed and nearly 50 wounded. All three of the attackers were shot dead by police.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said it was fair to ask how the attackers “slipped through our net.”
Security has become a key issue in the run-up to Thursday’s general election, with Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May struggling in the polls. British security officials said none of the men were considered violent, but they acknowledged the difficulty of predicting whether extremists will turn dangerous. The assault was the third attack in three months in which most of the assailants had been on authorities’ radar at some point.
As the investigation expanded to look at how the men knew one another and whether they were part of a larger conspiracy, Pakistani intelligence authorities swooped Tuesday into the town of Jhelum, where Khurum Butt lived until the time he was 7, when he moved to Britain. His cousin, 18-year-old Bilal Dar, said that Butt’s uncle was taken in for questioning. It was unclear if he was detained.
“Our family is hurt by what he did,” Mr. Dar said in the town about two hours east of Pakistan’s capital. “This has destroyed our family’s pride.”
Butt, 27, embraced radical Islam during his time in London and was once filmed in a documentary called “The Jihadis Next Door.” In the film, he was seen with a group unfurling a black-and-white flag associated with the Islamic State group. The men were followers of Anjem Choudary, a preacher who was jailed for his support of the Islamic State and who once praised the Sept. 11 attackers.
It is thought that Choudary played a key role in Butt’s radicalization, according to a British government official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk about the ongoing investigation. Choudary’s now-banned al-Muhajiroun group was linked to one of Butt’s alleged connections, Sajeel Shahid, according to the British government official who again spoke on condition of anonymity.
Shadid allegedly provided al Qaeda terror training to Mohammed Siddique Khan, one of the four suicide bombers who killed 52 people during London’s morning rush hour in 2005. He was also accused of training other terror suspects in Britain.
Police identified the second attacker as 30-year-old Rachid Redouane, also known as Rachid Elkhdar, who claimed to have both Moroccan and Libyan roots and worked as a pastry chef in Ireland, where he had lived in the past five years as well the east London suburb of Dagenham. Redouane was never under surveillance by Irish authorities, and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald urged caution in speculating about his movements.
The third attacker was identified as Youssef Zaghba, a 22-year-old Italian national of Moroccan descent who was reportedly working in a London restaurant.