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

Island Health chief medical officer Dr. Richard Stanwick receives a first dose of Pfizer vaccine, Dec. 22, 2020. (B.C. government)
COVID-19: B.C. seniors aged 80+ can start to sign up for vaccination on March 8

Long-term care residents protected by shots already given

The Pitt Meadows Paddling Club is looking for a new location. (Special to The News)
Pitt Meadows paddling club looking for a new location

Club has lost its former leased site on Harris Road

Samantha Lowe won more than $637,000 playing Lotto Max. (BCLC Media Relations/Special to The News)
Maple Ridge woman wins lottery

Samantha Lowe won Lotto Max on Feb. 23

Hospital outbreaks included in Fraser Health update Feb. 28, 2021. (Black Press file)
Fraser Health declares COVID-19 outbreaks at Chilliwack General and Surrey Memorial

The medicine units are temporarily closed but ERs remain open, according to Fraser Health update

Conservative MP Marc Dalton (The News files)
Maple Ridge Pitt Meadows MP votes no to NDP Pharmacare bill

Maple Ridge city councillor disappointed

Langley resident Carrie MacKay shared a video showing how stairs are a challenge after spending weeks in hospital battling COVID-19 (Special to Langley Advance Times)
VIDEO: Stairs a challenge for B.C. woman who chronicled COVID-19 battle

‘I can now walk for six (to) 10 minutes a day’

B.C. Attorney General David Eby speaks in the legislature, Dec. 7, 2020. Eby was given responsibility for housing after the October 2020 provincial election. (Hansard TV)
B.C. extends COVID-19 rent freeze again, to the end of 2021

‘Renoviction’ rules tightened, rent capped to inflation in 2022

Face mask hangs from a rear-view mirror. (Black Press image)
B.C. CDC unveils guide on how to carpool during the pandemic

Wearing masks, keeping windows open key to slowing the spread of COVID-19

Churches, including Langley’s Riverside Calvary Church, are challenging the regulations barring them from holding in-person worship services during COVID-19. (Langley Advance Times file)
Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Minister of Families, Children and Social Development Ahmed Hussen takes part in an update on the COVID pandemic during a press conference in Ottawa on October 27, 2020. The City of Vancouver says it has purchased a former hotel at a major thoroughfare that can house about 65 units to accommodate homeless people. A joint news release by the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation and city says 2075 Kingsway, Days Inn by Wyndham Vancouver, will be ready for accommodation this November. The Minister of Families, Children and Social Development Ahmed Hussen also announced a $51.5 million Rapid Housing Initiative for Vancouver that is expected to create 135 new affordable homes. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Former Vancouver hotel to be converted to 65 units for homeless people by the fall

The former Days Inn on Kingsway will be ready to house people in November

B.C. Court of Appeal in Vancouver. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
Murder conviction upheld in case where Surrey mom was stabbed in front of her kids

Jury in 2017 found Tanpreet Kaur Athwal, aka Sonia Kaur Gill, guilty of first-degree murder in 2007 death of Amanpreet Bahia, 33

Det. Sgt. Jim Callender. (Hamilton Police Service screenshot)
B.C. man dead, woman seriously injured after shooting in Hamilton, Ont.

The man was in the process of moving to the greater Toronto area, police say

Most Read