UK police: Bridge attacker had been jailed for terror crimes

  • A police officer moves an uninvolved person away from a cordon after an attack on London Bridge in central London. (Dominic Lipinski/PA via AP)

LONDON — A man imprisoned six years for terrorism offenses before his release last year stabbed several people in London on Friday, two fatally, before being tackled by members of the public and then fatally shot by officers on London Bridge.

Neil Basu, London’s police counterterrorism head, said 28-year-old Usman Khan was attending a program that works to educate prisoners when he launched the attack, killing a man and a woman and injuring three others just yards from the site of a deadly 2017 van and knife rampage. Basu said the suspect appeared to be wearing a bomb vest but it turned out to be “a hoax explosive device.”

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Health officials said one of the injured was in critical but stable condition, one was stable and the third had less serious injuries.

The attack raises difficult questions for Britain’s government and security services. Police said Khan was convicted in 2012 of terrorism offenses and released in December 2018 “on license,” which means he had to meet certain conditions or face recall to prison. Several British media outlets reported that he was wearing an electronic ankle bracelet.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he had “long argued” that it was a “mistake to allow serious and violent criminals to come out of prison early.”

“It is very important that we get out of that habit and that we enforce the appropriate sentences for dangerous criminals, especially for terrorists, that I think the public will want to see,” he said.

Johnson, who chaired a meeting of the government’s COBRA emergency committee late Friday, said more police would be patrolling the streets in the coming days “for reassurance purposes.” Police said they were treating the stabbings as a terrorist attack and were not actively looking for any other suspects.

The violence erupted less than two weeks before Britain holds a national election Dec. 12. The main political parties temporarily suspended campaigning in London as a mark of respect.

Metropolitan Police Chief Cressida Dick said officers were called just before 2 p.m. to Fishmongers’ Hall, a conference venue at the north end of London Bridge. The pedestrian and vehicle bridge links the city’s business district with the south bank of the River Thames.

Learning Together, a Cambridge University-backed prison education program, was holding a conference there Friday. Cambridge Vice Chancellor Stephen Toope said he was “devastated to learn that today’s hateful attack on London Bridge may have been targeted at staff, students and alumni attending an event organized by the University of Cambridge’s Institute of Criminology.”

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Minutes after the stabbings, witnesses saw a man with a knife being wrestled to the ground by members of the public on the bridge before officers shot him dead.

Video images showed people spraying the fleeing suspect with a fire extinguisher, while another passer-by held what appeared to be a long white stick. Witness Amy Coop, who was at the Fishmongers’ Hall, said it was a narwhal tusk the man had grabbed from a wall before going to confront the attacker.

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