London deaths put focus on early release
LONDON — 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 a security system that had kept London largely free of terror for more than two years.
Police said Khan was convicted in 2012 of terrorism offenses and released in December 2018 “on license,” which means he had to meet certain conditions or face a return 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 played no role in Khan’s early release. It said he “appears to have been released automatically on license (as required by law), without ever being referred to the board.”
Neil Basu of the Metropolitan Police counterterrorism police, said Saturday 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 “deradicalization” 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.
“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 and the U.S. Embassy and individuals including Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was 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.
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for Friday’s attack, saying Khan was one of its fighters. The group’s statement, however, didn’t provide any evidence.
Forensics work takes place Saturday at the scene of the London Bridge stabbings. The attacker, Usman Khan, was convicted in 2012 of terrorism offenses and released from prison last year.