English town mourns terror attack victims
LONDON — The city of Reading mourned Monday for three people stabbed to death as they sat in a park in what is being treated as a terrorist attack, gathering for a moment of silence as police questioned the alleged attacker.
More than 100 students lit candles and laid flowers in memory of history teacher James Furlong, who was named as one of the victims. At Holt School in nearby Wokingham, where he taught, a flag in the courtyard had been lowered to half-staff.
Furlong’s friend, Joe Ritchie-Bennett, 39, was named by his family in Philadelphia as the second victim. The identity of the third victim has not been released.
The stabbing rampage took place Saturday evening as groups of people relaxed in Forbury Gardens park in Reading, a city of 200,000 about 40 miles west of London. A 25-year-old suspect is in custody, but officials say the motive for the carnage is unclear.
Chief Constable John Campbell of Thames Valley Police said officers were called to reports of stabbings just before 7 p.m. and arrived to find a “horrific” scene. Unarmed officers detained the suspect within five minutes.
Police have not identified the suspect, but Britain’s national news agency, Press Association, and other media outlets named the alleged attacker as Khairi Saadallah, a Libyan asylum-seeker living in Reading.
Saadallah had been depressed and received psychological treatment because of the chaos in Libya after the NATO-backed uprising that toppled and then killed dictator Moammar Gadhafi, a family member in Tripoli told The Associated Press.
The relative said Saadallah was born to a wealthy family in Tripoli. He lived in a villa and went to private schools in Libya. Though he supported Gadhafi’s ouster, he became disillusioned with the chaotic aftermath.
The relative, who spoke on condition of anonymity because she hopes to return to the U.K., said Saadallah had lived in Britain since he was 17 and had adopted a Western lifestyle, with a girlfriend and tattoos.
The BBC reported that Saadallah was investigated by British security services last year over concerns he planned to travel abroad to join a jihad group, but that he was determined not to be a major threat.
Questions were immediately raised about whether he should have been under closer watch. But Mark Rowley, former assistant commissioner for specialist operations in the Metropolitan Police, told the BBC that the task is daunting, given that 40,000 people have touched the system.
“And in that 40,000 are lots of volatile people who dip in and out of interests in extreme ideology, and to spot one of those who is going to go from a casual interest into a determined attacker, which can happen in a matter of days, is the most wicked problem that the services face,” he said.
Police have two weeks to question the suspect without charge because he was arrested under the Terrorism
Act. Police warned the people of Reading to expect disruption in the community as the investigation continues.
The Philadelphia Inquirer quoted the father of RitchieBennett as saying his son had moved to England from the U.S. around 15 years ago. His father, Robert Ritchie, said his son worked for a law firm in London before taking a job about 10 years ago at a Dutch pharmaceutical company with British headquarters in Reading. He called him an “absolutely fabulous guy,’’ whom he loved with all his heart.
“We’re mourning, and we’re trying to decide what we’re going to do,” he told the Inquirer. “It’s 3,500 miles away. They are still in lockdown over there with the coronavirus.”
A mourner is comforted by a police officer as flowers are placed at Holt School in Wokingham, England, in memory of teacher James Furlong, a victim of a terror attack in nearby Reading.