Saturday, November 27

Reading park suspect was on MI5 list



The terror suspect accused of killing three people in a Reading park had been investigated by MI5, it emerged on Sunday night.

Khairi Saadallah, 25, was put on the security service’s ‘radar’ less than a year before Saturday’s attack after a tip-off that he planned to travel to his native Libya where it was feared he wanted to join a militant jihadist group. But the file was closed after two months when intelligence services found no credible evidence to support the claim.

Questions remain over whether Saadallah should have been at large at the time of Saturday evening’s attack in a park in Reading, Berks, after being released early from prison this month for minor, non-terrorist offences.

It has also emerged that Saadallah, who it is understood had serious mental health problems, had come to the UK as an illegal immigrant in 2012 but was granted asylum in 2018. He had boasted to friends in the UK that he had fought as a child soldier to overthrow Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.

The UK is prevented from deporting Libyan prisoners back home after they serve their sentence because to do so would breach their human rights due to the dangers posed in the failed nation state. Sources said on Sunday night that Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, is planning to crackdown on asylum applications and speed up the deportation of foreign national offenders as part of the Government’s plans to reform the asylum system.

Boris Johnson said the Government is determined to learn lessons from Saturday’s terrorist outrage.

The prime minister said he was “sickened and appalled” by what had happened and that the police must be allowed to get on with their job of investigating the incident. But he added: “If there are lessons we need to learn about how we handle such cases and how we handle the events leading up to such cases then we will learn those lessons and we will not hesitate to take action where necessary.” It came as one of the victims was named as James Furlong, head of history at a school in Wokingham, described by colleagues as a ‘kind and gentle man’.

Saadallah is the latest Libyan accused of a terrorist strike on UK soil and follows the blowing up of a US airliner over Lockerbie, the murder of WPC Yvonne Fletcher outside the Libyan embassy in London and the suicide bombing at the Manchester Arena in 2017. Saadallah first lived in Manchester when he arrived in the UK and former neighbours in Reading suggested he moved in the same circles as Salman Abedi, who carried out the Manchester attack, when he lived in the north west.

Home Office sources have denied any evidence of a connection.

Whitehall sources said Saadallah came ‘fleetingly’ on MI5’s radar over ‘information suggesting he had travel aspirations’. The sources stressed that Saadallah was just one of about 30,000 names on MI5’s terror suspect list in the middle of 2019 but that he was never elevated to a ‘subject of interest’ reserved for the 3,000 suspects posing the greatest threat to national security.

After a couple of months, we were confident there was nothing in the original information, said the source. It didn’t pass the threshold to merit a full investigation because the information was not credible enough.

Saadallah remained in custody on Sunday night after being arrested on suspicion of murder allegedly fleeing the scene. He was later rearrested under Section 41 of the Terrorism Act 2000 which means officers now have a maximum of 28 days to charge him.

Counter-terror officers said the investigation “continues to move at a fast pace” while John Campbell, Chief Constable of Thames Valley Police, said: “I am sure we would all want to recognise the bravery of those police officers responding, but also that a number of members of the public were helping my officer’s and the victims at what was a very distressing scene.”

Eyewitnesses described the suspect entering the park, shouting something ‘unintelligible”, possibly in a foreign language, before stabbing a group of friends sat in a circle on the grass with a knife with a blade at least five inches long.

The man attacked a second group and then fled before being rugby tackled by police officers.

Saadallah’s flat, just over a mile from the scene of the attack, was raided by counter-terrorism police in the early hours of Sunday morning.

Police on Sunday warned people to stay alert in parks amid fears lone wolf attacks are becoming even more rudimentary during the coronavirus pandemic when large crowds are gathering outside.

Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, the head of counter terrorism policing, said yesterday: “Please continue with your daily lives, but be alert, not alarmed, when you are out in public. If you see anything suspicious, anything at all that makes you feel suspicious, then please report it, please remain vigilant.”

Saadallah relocated to the UK from war-torn Libya in 2012 because he could not bear the violence, his family said on Sunday. He claimed asylum on arrival.

However, those who knew him in Manchester and Reading described an unpredictable character who smoked cannabis, a habit which friends believed affected his personality

A cousin revealed he had mental health problems which caused him to hear voices and fear he was being followed.

She said he had converted to Christianity and even got a tattoo of a cross on his arm. He’s not Muslim any more,” she said. “It’s like he’s always been in the UK.