UK leader Johnson vows to review sentencing for terrorism offences

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said people convicted of terrorism offences should not be let out of prison early after it was revealed the London Bridge attacker was released from jail last year before the end of his sentence.

The Islamic State group said the attack on Friday was carried out by one of its fighters in response to its calls to target countries that had been part of a coalition fighting the jihadist group, according to its Amaq news agency. The group did not provide any evidence for its assertion.

Wearing a fake suicide vest and wielding knives, Usman Khan went on a rampage on Friday afternoon at a conference on criminal rehabilitation beside London Bridge.

“I think that the practice of automatic, early release where you cut a sentence in half and let really serious, violent offenders out early simply isn’t working, and you’ve some very good evidence of how that isn’t working, I am afraid, with this case,” Johnson said on Saturday.

Police shot and killed Khan after his suspected assault that killed two people and seriously wounded three others was broken up by bystanders - one armed with a 5-foot (1.5-metre) narwhal tusk and another a fire extinguisher.

Video footage of the confrontation showed Khan, 28, being challenged by a man, reportedly a Polish chef, wielding the tusk - believed to have been taken from a nearby historic hall - and sprayed with the extinguisher.

Moments later armed police officers arrived on the scene and shot him dead.

Khan had been conditionally released from jail last December after serving less than half of a 16-year prison sentence for terrorism, and was wearing a suspected fake explosive device.

Investigators have said they are not actively seeking others in relation to the incident, which recalled a three-man terrorist assault two years ago on London Bridge that killed eight.

The opposition Labour Party criticised the government’s record on crime.

“There are big questions that need to be answered,” London Mayor Sadiq Khan, the most senior opposition politician in Britain in a position of power, told Sky News.

“One of the important tools judges had when it came to dealing with dangerous, convicted criminals ... was their ability to give an indeterminate sentence to protect the public,” he said. “(That) was taken away from them by this government.”

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn called on Saturday for an investigation and said there were questions for the probation service and parole board after a man who had been convicted on terrorism offences killed two people at London Bridge.

“There’s got to be a very full investigation and clearly there’s been a disaster,” Corbyn told broadcasters.

The latest attack came less than two weeks before Britain’s general election, and politicians temporarily suspended campaigning.

“It does not make sense for us as a society to be putting people who have been convicted of terrorist offences ... out on early release,” Johnson said as he visited the scene.

“We argue that people should serve the tariff, serve the term, of which they are sentenced,” the prime minister added, noting the Conservatives’ manifesto calls for a tougher sentencing regime. 

‘Bundle him to the ground’

Khan, a British national from Stoke in central England, was handed an indeterminate sentence for public protection in 2012, with at least eight years in prison.

He was part of an eight-man network inspired by al-Qaeda who had plotted to bomb targets including the London Stock Exchange, and planned to take part in “terrorist training” in Pakistan.

But his sentence was quashed by the Court of Appeal in April 2013 and he received a new 21-year term, comprising a custodial sentence of 16 years and five years on conditional release.

Police on Saturday were reportedly searching a property in Stafford, in central England, thought to be connected to Khan.

Police believe he began the attack at Fishmonger’s Hall, a historic building said to contain many ancient artefacts on the north side of the bridge.

Khan was attending an event organised by the University of Cambridge’s criminology institute on prisoner rehabilitation, and reportedly arrived with two knives and the fake suicide vest.

The Metropolitan Police appealed for witnesses to come forward.

As the attack moved to London Bridge, a throng of people could be seen in videos grappling with Khan on a pedestrian walkway.

They reportedly included a convicted killer on day-release from prison and other ex-offenders also attending the criminology event.

Tour guide Stevie Hurst told BBC radio that “everyone was just on top of him trying to bundle him to the ground.

“I saw that the knife was still in his hand so I just put a foot in to try and kick him in the head,” he said.

One man in a suit and tie - identified by media as a police officer - was later seen carrying a large knife away.

“As we saw the worst of humankind, we saw the very best of human spirit and London,” Met Police Commissioner Cressida Dick said Saturday as she visited London Bridge. 

‘Mistake’  

On November 4, Britain downgraded its terrorism threat level from “severe”, the second-highest of five levels, to “substantial” - the lowest rating in more than five years.

Attention has swiftly turned to how Khan could have been released from prison after serving less than seven years of his sentence.

Inmates are usually released half-way through the type of determinate sentence he was given, and time spent in custody before trial may have been taken into account.

The Parole Board said it had no involvement in his release and that it appeared to have happened automatically as required by law.
 

During the attack, Khan wore an electronic tag used to monitor criminal offenders, The Times newspaper reported.

Johnson, who took over as prime minister in July, said the cases of other convicted terrorists released early were under urgent review.

“A great deal of work is being done right now to make sure that the public is protected,” he added.

Queen Elizabeth II said she and husband Prince Philip had been saddened to hear of the attack and expressed her “enduring thanks” to the “brave individuals who put their own lives at risk to selflessly help and protect others”.

The 2017 London Bridge attack involved Islamist extremists wearing fake suicide devices ploughing a van into pedestrians, before attacking people with knives in nearby Borough Market and being shot dead by police.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS and AFP)