Police focus on eliminating any further terror threat

The UK’s most senior counter-terrorism police officer said officers were working to ensure there was no outstanding threat to the public after a man convicted of an Islamist terror plot killed two people and injured three others in a frenzied knife attack in central London on Friday.

Neil Basu, an assistant commissioner in the Metropolitan Police, said officers believed that Usman Khan acted alone in Friday’s attack. But, because the priority was to eliminate any “related outstanding threat”, officers had raided an address in Stafford — where Khan had been living before he was shot dead on Friday — and another in Stoke-on-Trent, where Khan lived before his conviction in 2012 for a terrorist conspiracy.

Khan, 28, had been released from prison on licence in December 2018 and was wearing a monitoring tag. He was one of nine people convicted of involvement in a plot inspired by al-Qaeda that involved plans to bomb the London Stock Exchange and establish a terrorist training camp.

The attack has raised questions about the circumstances of Khan’s release from prison, how well he had been monitored and why he was allowed to travel from his home in Stafford to attend the Cambridge university-organised event where he began his attack.

Mr Basu said there had been an “extensive list” of conditions around Khan’s release on licence.

“To the best of my knowledge, as I’m standing here today, he was complying with those conditions,” Mr Basu told reporters.

This undated photo provided by West Midlands Police shows Usman Khan. UK counterterrorism police are searching for clues into an attack that left two people dead and three injured near London Bridge. Police said Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019, Khan, who was imprisoned six years for terrorism offenses before his release last year stabbed several people in London on Friday, Nov. 29, before being tackled by members of the public and shot dead by officers on the London Bridge. (West Midlands Police via AP)
Undated photo of Usman Khan provided by West Midlands Police

Boris Johnson had earlier used a visit to London Bridge to underline an argument the Conservative party had been making even before Friday’s attack, that prisoners should not automatically be eligible for release on licence halfway through their sentences.

“I’ve said for a long time now that I think the practice of automatic early release, where we cut a sentence in half and let really serious and violent offenders out early, simply isn’t working,” the prime minister said. “I think you’ve had some very good evidence of how that isn’t working, I’m afraid, with this case.”

Khan had been sentenced in 2012 to 16 years imprisonment but was released on licence in December last year, having served eight years including time on remand.

Jeremy Corbyn, the opposition Labour leader, said he thought there was a question about what the Probation Service was doing and whether it was involved, as well as whether the Parole Board should have had a say in his release and what happened to Khan in prison.

Police setting up barriers to maintain the integrity of the site at a three-storey block of flats in Woverhampton Road, Stafford, where a property is being searched by police following yesterday's stabbing attacks in London. PA Photo. Picture date: Saturday November 30, 2019. See PA story POLICE LondonBridge. Photo credit should read: Jacob King/PA Wire
Police search a property in Stafford © PA

Brandon Lewis, security minister, had earlier said on Radio 4’s Today programme that the conditions placed on Khan after his release would be one of the points examined in the police investigation.

Sadiq Khan, London’s mayor and a member of the Labour party, said the police’s ability to combat terror had been hit by funding cuts. He also said he had opposed the decision to end indeterminate jail sentences of the kind that Khan was initially given.

Khan was initially sentenced to an indeterminate sentence for public protection — a measure introduced by the Labour government in 2003.

Mr Lewis told Today that funding for counter-terrorism police had been maintained amid police spending cuts. However, the mayor said other functions, such as community policing, were important in combating terror. “Cuts have consequences,” he said.

The Ministry of Justice, which oversees the National Probation Service, which was supervising Khan, declined to comment on its handling of his case.

Neil Basu declined to comment on the identity of the dead, although David Merritt, father of Jack Merritt, a co-ordinator of Learning Together, the Cambridge university-based project that organised Friday’s event, identified his son as one of those who died. Mr Merritt wrote on Twitter that his son, 25, would not have wanted the attack to be used as a pretext for imposing more draconian sentences or for detaining people unnecessarily.

Map showing how the events of the London Bridge shooting unfoldedUsman Khan attends event at Fishmongers’ Hall, where police believe the knife attack beganAttacker proceeds on to London Bridge, where he was restrained by members of the public Khan confronted and shot by police officers

Mr Basu said the force was aware one of the victims had been named but that he would have to wait for formal identification from a coroner before naming any victims.

Police have said that Khan started his attack inside Fishmongers’ Hall, a historic building on London Bridge that was hosting the Learning Together event that Khan was attending, before heading out on to London Bridge, where he was first confronted by members of the public and then shot dead by police officers. London Bridge was also the scene of a deadly terror attack just five days before the June 2017 election. 

“Whilst we’re still piecing together the exact details of what happened, what is already clear is that this cowardly act was immediately countered by some truly incredible acts of bravery by both members of the public and police officers,” Mr Basu said.

Friday’s incident comes only weeks after the Home Office downgraded the UK’s terror threat level, which estimates the risk of a terror attack, from “severe” to “substantial”, the first such shift in five years.

Mr Basu said there would be increased patrols by armed and unarmed officers across London over the coming days.

Additional reporting by Andrew Bounds.


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