Britain vows escaped terrorism suspect will be found

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain vowed on Thursday a former army soldier suspected of terrorism offences who escaped from a prison by hiding under a food delivery van, would be found, as it promised an urgent inquiry into how he had been able to go on the run.

Daniel Abed Khalife, 21, is believed to have escaped from London's HMP Wandsworth on Wednesday morning by slipping out of the prison kitchen where he was working and strapping himself to the bottom of the van.

A major manhunt is under way to track him down, with enhanced security checks at ports and airports which have led to delays for passengers.

As of Thursday evening, there had not been any confirmed sightings of Khalife, police said.

"Daniel Khalife will be found and he will be made to face justice," Alex Chalk, the justice minister, told parliament.

Khalife, who is 6 ft 2 in (1.88 m) and was wearing a chef's outfit of a white T-shirt, red and white chequered trousers and brown steel toe cap boots, was being held in prison ahead of trial on offences relating to terrorism and the Official Secrets Act.

Police said he was not thought to pose a risk to the wider public but advised people not to approach him.

His military experience could make him more aware of efforts to catch him, police added.

Khalife, who was discharged from the army in May, is accused of eliciting or trying to elicit information likely to be useful to a person preparing an act of terrorism while he was based at barracks in central England in 2021, and also making a bomb hoax by placing three canisters with wires on a desk.

He is also charged with obtaining information which might be "directly or indirectly useful to an enemy".

The BBC reported that the state Khalife is accused of gathering information for is Iran.

Opposition lawmakers have demanded answers into how he had been able to escape and why he was not being held at a maximum security prison. There are also questions being asked about the jail's staffing and security procedures.

Chalk said there would be an immediate investigation into the prison's protocols and into the decision about where Khalife was held, with preliminary findings returned by the end of the week. An additional independent investigation would take place at a later date.

"No stone must be left unturned in getting to the bottom of what happened," Chalk said.

The Prison Officers' Association said government cuts to the justice system had had consequences on the prison service which was dealing with more prisoners with fewer staff.

"Wandsworth is one of the largest prisons in the country and is overcrowded and under resourced," said Mark Fairhurst, chairman for the Prison Officers' Association.

(Reporting by Michael Holden, Farouq Suleiman and Muvija M; Additional reporting by Sachin Ravikumar; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)