Terrorist stabbed three people to death in less than a minute, court told

Emily Pennink, PA Old Bailey Correspondent
·4-min read

A “ruthlessly efficient” terrorist stabbed three people to death and injured three others in a Reading park in less than a minute, a court has heard.

Khairi Saadallah, 26, shouted “Allahu akhbar” during the violent spree on June 20 last year.

The defendant, of Basingstoke Road, Reading, pleaded guilty to three murders and three attempted murders and appeared at the Old Bailey on Tuesday for the start of his sentencing.

Forbury Gardens incident
Khairi Saadallah (Facebook/PA)

Prosecutor Alison Morgan QC said Saadallah, originally from Tripoli in Libya, aimed to kill as many people as possible in the name of violent jihad.

He launched the attacks in Forbury Gardens, Reading, as numerous people, including the victims, were enjoying the summer evening after the first lockdown restrictions in England were relaxed.

History teacher James Furlong, 36, scientist David Wails, 49, and US citizen Joseph Ritchie-Bennett, 39, were fatally stabbed.

Their friend, Stephen Young, and Patrick Edwards and Nishit Nisudan, who were sitting in a nearby group, were injured.

Opening the facts of the case, Ms Morgan said: “In less than a minute, shouting ‘Allahu akbar’, the defendant carried out a lethal attack with a knife, killing all three men before they had a chance to respond and try to defend themselves.

A videograb of Khairi Saadallah buying a knife
A videograb of Khairi Saadallah buying a knife at a Morrisons supermarket the day before he stabbed three people to death (Thames Valley Police/PA)

“Within the same minute, the defendant went on to attack others nearby, stabbing three more people – Stephen Young, Patrick Edwards and Nishit Nisudan – causing them significant injuries.

“The defendant was ruthlessly efficient in his actions. The prosecution’s case is that the attack perpetrated by the defendant was carefully planned and executed with determination and precision.

“The defendant believed that in carrying out this attack he was acting in pursuit of his extreme ideology, an ideology he appears to have held for some time.

“He believed that. in killing as many people as possible that day. he was performing an act of religious jihad.”

Saadallah arrived in the UK as an asylum seeker in 2012, having fled the civil war in his home country of Libya in North Africa.

Forbury Gardens incident
(L to R) Joe Ritchie-Bennett, James Furlong and David Wails were fatally stabbed (Family handout/PA)

The court heard that Saadallah, who was refused asylum, had previously been involved with militias who had been part of the uprising against Muammar Gaddafi and was pictured handling weapons, including firearms.

Since living in Britain he had been repeatedly arrested and convicted of various offences, including theft and assault, between 2013 and last year.

He developed an emotionally unstable and anti-social personality disorder, with his behaviour worsened by alcohol and cannabis misuse, the court was told.

In 2017, he was in jail at HMP Bullingdon at the same time as prominent radical preacher Omar Brooks, who is associated with the banned terrorist organisation Al-Muhajiroun.

Ms Morgan said Saadallah was observed to be keen to associate with Brooks and was “impressionable and volatile”.

The prosecutor said his desire to associate with the known Islamic extremist in 2017 was significant, as it showed the ideology that he was exposed to in Libya remained of interest to him three years before the attacks in this case.

A videograb of Khairi Saadallah in Forbury Gardens
A videograb of Khairi Saadallah in Forbury Gardens days before the attacks (Thames Valley Police/PA)

The court heard that his mobile phone showed Saadallah had accessed extremist images, including material about the extremist known as Jihadi John.

The court was told Saadallah was released from HMP Bullingdon on June 5, just days before the attack.

On June 15, he searched the internet with the question “Is Corona a sign of the end of the world” and looked up images of military activity in Libya and body bags.

He also accessed images of the gardens where he was to carry out his attack.

Two days later, he was searching the internet for how to “disappear with magic” with reference to witchcraft, the court heard.

The same day, it is alleged the defendant was caught on CCTV footage as he carried out “reconnaissance” of Forbury Gardens.

On June 18, the defendant accessed a website with the flag associated with Islamic State and had contact with his probation officer.

The officer alerted his mental health team after becoming concerned about comments Saadallah made about “magic”.

A bandana discarded by Khairi Saadallah
A bandana discarded by Khairi Saadallah after he stabbed three people to death (Thames Valley Police/PA)

However, a psychiatrist had since concluded that the events of June 20 were “unrelated to the effects of either mental disorder or substance misuse”.

The day before the attack, the defendant was caught on CCTV footage at Morrisons supermarket buying a knife.

The court heard Saadallah also contacted the crisis team but when they visited him on June 19, he did not open the door.

Police also visited him, prompted by concerns of his brother.

In body worn footage played in court, an officer asked how he was feeling, and Saadallah said he was “alright”.

The prosecution said the defendant was keen to get rid of the officers as soon as possible and deliberately positioned himself between them and the knife he had bought.

The sentencing, before Mr Justice Sweeney, is expected to go on for two to three days.