Questions remain over whether Saadallah should have been at large at the time of Saturday evening’s attack in a park in the town 64 kilometres west of London, after being released early from prison this month. He was serving time for minor offences.
The UK is prevented from deporting Libyan prisoners after their sentence because to do so would breach their human rights owing to the dangers posed there. Sources said last night that Home Secretary Priti Patel was planning to crack down on asylum applications and speed up deportation of foreign offenders as part of the government’s plans to reform the asylum system.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the government was determined to learn lessons from the incident.
Johnson said he was “sickened and appalled” and that police must be allowed to get on with 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, 36, head of history at a school in Wokingham, and described by colleagues as a “kind and gentle man”. His parents paid tribute to their “beautiful, intelligent, honest and fun” son.
Joe Ritchie-Bennett, 39, a native of northeast Philadelphia, was named by his family on Monday as one of three people who died in the attack.
His father, Robert Ritchie, described his son as an “absolutely fabulous guy” and said the family was devastated.
“We’re mourning, and we’re trying to decide what we’re going to do,” he told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “It’s 3500 miles away. They are still in lockdown over there with the coronavirus, and I don’t know what else to say.”
US ambassador to London Woody Johnson offered his “deepest condolences” to the families of those killed.
“To our great sorrow, this includes an American citizen. Our thoughts are with all those affected. We condemn the attack absolutely and have offered our assistance to British law enforcement,” he tweeted.
The third victim has not yet been identified.
It also emerged that Saadallah, who is understood to have had mental health problems, arrived in the UK as an illegal immigrant in 2012 and was granted asylum in 2018. He told friends he had fought as a child soldier to overthrow Colonel Gaddafi.
Saadallah is the latest Libyan accused of a terrorist act on UK soil, following the bombing 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 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 to MI5’s radar over “information suggesting he had travel aspirations”. The sources stressed Saadallah was one of about 30,000 names on the terror suspect list in 2019 but that he was never elevated to a “subject of interest” — reserved for the 3000 suspects posing a greater threat to national security.
Saadallah remained in custody after his arrest. He was then rearrested under Section 41 of the Terrorism Act 2000, which means officers now have 28 days in which 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 officers and the victims at what was a very distressing scene.”
Witnesses described a man entering the park, shouting something “unintelligible”, possibly in a foreign language, before stabbing a group of people with a knife with a blade at least 12 centimetres long. He attacked a second group and then fled before being tackled by police officers.
Saadallah’s flat, approximately a kilometre from the scene of the attack, was raided by counter-terrorism police early on Sunday.
Officers warned people to stay alert in parks amid fears of lone wolf attacks targeting crowds gathered outside owing to the coronavirus pandemic.
“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, said Scotland Yard Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, the head of counter-terrorism policing
Dr Alan Mendoza, of the Henry Jackson Society, said: “In order to safeguard the public, the Home Secretary must be able to remove those foreign nationals including asylum seekers who no longer have the right of abode.
“Yet over time, human rights case law has expanded so far as to make that near impossible with some nationals. This cannot be right, the Home Secretary’s powers must be restored”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said this was “not a time for party politics” and that he was willing to work with the government to see if there were “lessons that can be learnt”.
“And all of our thoughts are with those who have lost someone in this.”
The Telegraph, London; Reuters
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