Prison officers lucky to be alive after terror attack at high-security jail, officials say

Police treating stabbing at high-security HMP Whitemoor as a terror attack

Lizzie Dearden
Security Correspondent
Friday 10 January 2020 13:32
Suspect Brusthom Ziamani was jailed as a teenager after being arrested in London carrying a knife, a hammer and a black flag in a rucksack
Suspect Brusthom Ziamani was jailed as a teenager after being arrested in London carrying a knife, a hammer and a black flag in a rucksack

Prison officers were lucky to escape with their lives during a suspected terror attack in a high-security prison, officials have said.

Five members of staff at HMP Whitemoor were stabbed by two inmates who were wearing fake suicide vests on Thursday morning.

Scotland Yard’s counterterror branch is investigating the attack, which came amid heightened concern over terrorist networking and radicalisation inside British prisons.

One of the suspects is understood to be Brusthom Ziamani, a member of Anjem Choudary’s al-Muhajiroun (ALM) Islamist network who was jailed for planning a terror attack in 2015.

Police said the “matter is being treated as a terrorist attack” as the investigation continued on Friday.

“At approximately 9.10am on 9 January, two prisoners are believed to have approached and attacked a prison officer,” a spokesperson for Scotland Yard said.

“The prison officer received injuries to his head and neck and it is believed the attackers used improvised bladed weapons during the assault.

“The two prisoners were subsequently detained by other prison staff, some of whom also suffered injuries.”

Five members of staff were taken to hospital and have since been discharged.

Police confirmed that both attackers were wearing “belts with various items crudely attached”.

“The incident itself was quickly contained and dealt with by prison staff and from our enquiries thus far, there is nothing to suggest any continuing threat inside or outside of the prison system,” investigators added.

“Both the prisoners suspected to have been involved in the attack remain in prison. No arrests have been made at this time.​”

Fake suicide vests were worn by the perpetrators of attacks in London Bridge in 2017 and at Fishmongers’ Hall in November.

Prison Officers’ Association (POA) general secretary Steve Gillan called for the government and criminal justice system to deal with increased violence against prison staff “in a robust and effective manner”.

The 458-capacity HMP Whitemoor in Cambridgeshire

“There is no doubt in my mind that but for the bravery of staff, we could have been talking about a death of a prison officer at HMP Whitemoor,” he added. “This was an extremely serious attack on hard-working staff.”

Ziamani, now 24, had been jailed for plotting to behead a British soldier, after being found carrying a hammer and 12-inch knife wrapped in a black flag that has been used by al-Qaeda.

His trial heard that he converted to Islam in 2014 and had become homeless, falling into the hands ALM members who gave him money, clothes and accommodation.

Ziamani was photographed at ALM demonstrations and posted comments on Facebook claiming that he was “willing to die in the cause of Allah”.

He had researched the location of army cadet bases in London, shown his ex-girlfriend weapons, described fusilier Lee Rigby’s killer as a “legend”.

The second suspect in the attack is another Muslim convert who had been jailed for a violent offence, the BBC reported.

A Prison Service spokesperson said the incident was “quickly resolved by brave staff”, adding: “We do not tolerate assaults on our hard-working officers and will push for the strongest possible punishment.”

In a statement, Boris Johnson said his thoughts were with the staff who were injured.

The prime minister added: "I would like to thank them, and the emergency services, for their courageous response. We owe those who keep us safe a huge debt of gratitude."

The justice secretary, Robert Buckland, paid tribute to the "immense bravery and professionalism" of the prison officers involved.

Home secretary Priti Patel called the attack "sickening".

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