London Bridge attacker had previous terrorism conviction, police say
LONDON - The knife-wielding assailant who fatally stabbed a man and a woman in an attack near London Bridge was a convicted Islamist terrorist, recently released from prison after serving just half his 16-year sentence for an earlier plot to bomb the London Stock Exchange, police said Saturday.
The attacker, identified by authorities as Usman Khan, 28, was shot dead by police after stabbing at least five people Friday, two fatally.
Khan, a burly man with a thick black beard, was tackled to the ground on the bridge by members of the public, who were hailed by Queen Elizabeth II in a statement Saturday as “brave individuals who put their own lives at risk to selflessly help and protect others.”
Khan was wearing what turned out to be a fake “suicide vest” and was first subdued by men armed with a fire extinguisher and a narwhal tusk, taken off the wall of the Fishmongers’ Hall beside the bridge, where the attack began. One of the men hailed as a hero was an immigrant from Poland who worked as a chef.
The attack has left British authorities facing uncomfortable questions over early-release provisions for inmates jailed for terrorism-related crimes, and the efficacy of monitoring and “deradicalization” programs after they are free.
Those questions loom, too, as Britain and other European countries struggle over what to do with British born fighters and their families returning home after their years with the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.
Born and raised in Britain, Khan was released from prison 11 months ago and living in Stafford, about a two-hour train journey northwest of London.
One of the conditions of his release on parole in December 2018 was the requirement that he wear an electronic tracking device on his ankle, which Khan had on at the time of his attack.
In 2012, then-22-year-old Khan was sentenced to 16 years and jailed, along with eight others, for plotting to attack London landmarks, including the stock exchange, and pubs in his hometown of Stoke-on-Trent.
Before his arrest in 2010, Khan was a member of a cell inspired by the al-Qaeda terror organization. The group was trying to assemble materials and knowledge to make pipe bombs and other explosive devices, according to accounts of his earlier conviction. The men were also fundraising to construct a religious school in Pakistan that would have been used instead to train terrorists.
The plotters were arrested before they could carry out any attacks, as they were being monitored and surveilled by the British domestic law enforcement and intelligence service, MI5.
Khan’s lawyer, Vajahat Sharif, told the Guardian, that his former client “appeared to be rehabilitated and was a model prisoner.”
Sharif worried that Khan had been approached after his release from prison by Islamist plotters and re-radicalized.
“I’ve no idea what happened after his release, that is what is shocking,” Sharif told the Guardian. “Maybe he was not ideologically robust enough to resist the radicalizing groomers - I thought he was a reformed character.”
Sharif described Khan’s parents as “thoroughly decent, hard-working people, first-generation migrants from Pakistan.”
ITV news published a letter written by Khan in October 2012 asking to be placed a deradicalization program. “I don’t carry the views I had before my arrest and also I can prove that at the time I was immature, and now I am much more mature and want to live my life as a good Muslim and also a good citizen of Britain,” he wrote.
Police said the incident started at Fishmongers’ Hall, which stands beside the entrance to the London Bridge in the City of London.
Basu said Khan was attending a London event hosted by “Learning Together” - a Cambridge University-backed program that works to reeducate and socialize prisoners - when he launched the attack.
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick said that police were working “full tilt to understand exactly what has happened and whether anyone else was involved.”
Asked if Khan’s early release and subsequent attack represented a failure of the system, Brandon Lewis, Britain’s security minister, said he couldn’t comment on the Khan case, but told the BBC that going forward it would be right to “look again at the sentences, as I say, around these kind of violent crimes.”
Amateur video of Friday’s London attack, showed at least three people wrestling with the assailant before police arrived, one wielding the tusk of a narwhal, a white Arctic sea mammal with a single horn. Another person with a fire extinguisher, and one seemingly armed with nothing but quick reflexes, helped bring Khan to the ground.