Terrorist attacks on civilians are always outrageous, grotesque and tragic. But the atrocity last week in London was darkly ironic, too.
The basic events are as grim as they are frankly unremarkable in this age of mass killing. A known Islamic radical went on a stabbing rampage near the London Bridge, slashing anybody he could get his hands on. Two innocent civilians died as a result of the outburst. The killer, one Usman Khan, was taken down by bystanders before he could kill anyone else. A Polish kitchen worker living in Britain has emerged as a hero for taking down the terrorist. He sustained his own injuries during his act of heroism.
That Khan, of all people, committed the atrocity came as no surprise. For Usman Khan had in fact already been convicted of terror-related offenses before he committed this act of wanton cruelty.
“Usman Khan, 28, was sentenced in 2012 after being arrested in 2010 for terrorism offences for his part in an al Qaeda-inspired terror group that plotted to bomb the London Stock Exchange and kill Boris Johnson,” Britain’s Daily Mail reported. “The Stoke-on-Trent-based radical, along with two co-conspirators, originally received an indeterminate sentence for public protection with a minimum of eight years behind bars — meaning he could be kept indefinitely if he continued to pose a risk to the public.”
Yet Khan was released early — roughly a year ago. His “sentence was later quashed, after a ruling from judges including Justice Leveson gave him a determinate 16-year jail term, meaning he could be automatically released after eight years, half of his sentence,” the Mail reported.
The tragic irony we alluded to is that Usman Khan’s victims were no mere random targets. They were in fact people devoted to helping people just like him — and him personally.
One victim was Jack Merritt, only 25 years old. Mr. Merritt, a Cambridge graduate, was dedicating his life to rehabilitating prisoners. His master’s thesis had been titled, “A Critical Analysis of Over-Representation of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Males Aged 18-21 in the British Prison System,” and on the day of his murder, Mr. Merritt was leading a workshop near London Bridge for “Learning Together,” a group dedicated to rehabilitating ex-cons. One of the people participating in the workshop was Usman Khan. In other words, he turned his knife on somebody selflessly working to help improve his life.
“The injustice of somebody murdered while organizing for criminal justice feels impossibly sharp,” wrote Emma Goldberg, a friend of Jack Merritt’s, in The New York Times. “Jack was in a room of people, some on day release from prison, discussing possibilities for penal reform.”
Usman Khan’s other victim was only 23 years old, and she too was a Cambridge graduate focusing on criminal justice work. Saskia Jones was remembered for her “warm disposition and extraordinary intellectual creativity was combined with a strong belief that people who have committed criminal offences should have opportunities for rehabilitation.”
It seems particularly cruel that Khan lashed out at those devoted to helping him and those like him. And indeed it is. But that is the logic of Islamist terror: Anybody is expendable in the name of ideology. Consider, after all, how many co-religionists Islamic radicals have killed in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Even in the terrible slaughter in Nice, France, on Bastille Day 2016, an estimated one-third of the victims were Muslim. All that matters to the radicals is the body count, not the identity of the dead.
And that, fundamentally, is why rehabilitation of Islamic radicals is such a fraught enterprise. Terrorists are, fundamentally, not mere criminals — they’re not thieves, or even “ordinary” (dare we say) murderers. They are soldiers who are utterly — to the point of mass murder and suicide — devoted to their cause. They’re willing to slaughter with impunity. And that is why they must be either eliminated or incarcerated — for periods of much longer than eight years.
May Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones rest in peace.