Last Friday’s terrorist knife attack in London that resulted in two fatalities and three others being injured was carried out by jihadist, Usman Khan, who had been released early from prison.
Khan was originally convicted in 2012 with others from London, Stoke and Cardiff for planning an attack on the London Stock Exchange, and other targets.
During sentencing, the judge warned, “In my judgment, these offenders would remain, even after a lengthy term of imprisonment, of such a significant risk that the public could not be adequately protected by their being managed on licence in the community.”
Yet this is exactly what was allowed to happen when Khan’s indeterminate sentence was reduced on appeal to automatic release after 8 years and he was freed in December 2018.
Incredibly, there was no parole board review. Instead he was given a GPS tag and told to report his movements to the police.
Khan had been freed early because of anomalies between Labor and Conservative sentencing policies, a desire to reduce prison overcrowding and the belief that rehab classes could act as a substitute.
He was permitted to travel to London last Friday to attend a conference organized by the University of Cambridge Institute of Criminology as part of his rehabilitation process, but he had other plans.
Usman Khan appeared to be a success story in the government’s strategy for dealing with extremists, but they were wrong.
He told them what they wanted to hear, and they felt confident to let him attend classes run by well-intentioned professionals who had no form of protection other than the bond they believed they had built up with him.
Prime Minister Johnson has since ordered a review of early releases and two have already been re-arrested. Altogether, 74 terrorists were freed from prison early.
The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, parroted the standard line, “We’ve got to make sure the right lessons are learnt.” But will they be?
All early releases were subject to strict licensing conditions, but these were clearly not enough to stop Khan’s murderous ambitions — tragically, they even facilitated his attack.
The policy has put extra strain on government resources that were already over-stretched.
At the beginning of this year there were 700 terror investigations running, with 3,000 high-risk extremists on an MI5 watchlist, and that was before President Trump’s offensive against ISIS, which could have seen many others returning to the U.K.
Back in 2017, the EU’s counter-terror coordinator, Gilles de Kerchove, claimed the U.K. had the highest known number of Islamist radicals in Europe, between 20,000 and 25,000 people. That is the size of a large division in an army.
The authorities received a big shock to their multi-cultural policies when around 900 U.K. citizens answered the call to support ISIS. These were mostly young people who were born and bred in the Britain and who had gone through its educational system.
The policy of rehabilitation on their return offered some hope of helping them overcoming their radicalization but following Khan’s attacks that policy will need to be re-examined.
Programs like this one have had many successes, but they cannot be used as an automatic alternative to confinement.
Another of the attendees at the “Learning Together” conference was James Ford who is serving time for a terrible murder. Usman Khan hadn’t killed anyone up to that point, so Ford might have been considered the more dangerous of the two.
Yet when Khan began his murderous assault, Ford joined the efforts of those other incredibly brave people in the room, and nearby, who risked their own lives to restrain him, surely saving many other lives.
It would seem Ford was the kind of person the course was designed to help, but there is a big difference when dealing with ideologically driven, fanatical jihadists.
The fact that they were put on the same rehabilitation program may be an indication that the U.K. authorities have been unwilling to make that distinction.
Until now, deradicalization in the community has been the politically safe option, but Usman Khan has shown that this is not always safe for the public and this is one terrorist attack that could have been prevented.
One leader brave enough to express public concerns is Nigel Farage. In a TV election debate he said, “We all express our condolences, but nobody apologizes for the fact the liberal elite have given us a ridiculous sentencing system.”
He added, “And I think these people should never, ever be let out of prison, unless we’re absolutely convinced they do not have the jihadi virus.”
The opposition parties have called for more funding to be allocated to rehabilitation programs and of course that will help, but maybe it is also time for more common sense too.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson seems to have realized that.
• Andrew Davies is a U.K.-based video producer and scriptwriter.