Reading terror attack: Suspect Khairi Saadallah was referred to Prevent counter-extremism programme

Suspect was not found to have fixed ideology and was offered other forms of support

Lizzie Dearden
Security Correspondent
Tuesday 23 June 2020 19:51 BST
Priti Patel on 'tragic' Reading terror attack which left three dead

The man accused of launching a terror attack in Reading had been referred to the government’s counter-extremism programme, it has emerged.

Khairi Saadallah, 25, was flagged to the Prevent scheme but was not found to have a fixed ideology and was offered other forms of support, The Independent understands.

The Libyan asylum seeker had come on to MI5’s radar in 2019 over intelligence that he may have wanted to travel out of the UK to wage jihad abroad, but a full investigation was not deemed necessary and no journey took place.

MI5 is investigating about 3,000 “subjects of interest” (SOIs) at any one time, according to an official report released in March.

When probes are closed, individuals are categorised according to potential threat under a system brought in following the 2017 terror attacks.

There are currently 40,000 closed SOIs with “some risk of re-engaging in terrorist activity”.

Mr Saadallah, who moved to Britain in 2012, was receiving support for mental health issues.

He was under probation supervision at the time of Saturday’s attack, which happened 16 days after he was released from prison following a sentence not related to terrorism.

In a statement given to the BBC, Mr Saadallah’s brother Aiman said: “I want to express our condolences to the families of the victims that have died and wish a speedy recovery for all those injured.

“I would like to ask the press and media to give me time to grieve and respect my privacy at this difficult time.”

Three victims – friends Joe Ritchie-Bennett, James Furlong and David Wails – were killed, while a further three people were injured in Forbury Gardens.

Joe Ritchie-Bennett, James Furlong and David Wails: the three victims who died in the Reading attack
Joe Ritchie-Bennett, James Furlong and David Wails: the three victims who died in the Reading attack (Thames Valley Police)

Their friend, Michael Main, described the trio who lost their lives as “amazing, caring and beautiful men”.

Mr Saadallah remains in custody after being arrested under the Terrorism Act, and detectives have been granted a warrant of further detention until Saturday.

Counter Terrorism Policing South East, who are investigating the attack, would not comment on the specifics of his previous contact with Prevent.

However, a spokesperson said: “Prevent is the most important strategy we have to safeguard vulnerable people from radicalisation, and is essential in boosting the UK’s ability to counter the threat posed by terrorists.

“It is vitally important that people understand that early interventions are crucial and should contact police on 101 if they have concerns about someone they know.”

Prevent, which is currently subject to a delayed review after years of criticism, aims to stop people from being drawn into extremism before they present a security risk or commit offences.

Of the 5,700 referrals made in 2018-19, the largest group – 38 per cent – were flagged over a “mixed, unstable or unclear ideology”, followed by suspected Islamists and far-right extremists on 24 per cent each.

Half the people referred were passed on to support services, such as housing and mental health, a quarter “required no further action” and 23 per cent were considered by the Channel intervention scheme.

The national coordinator of Prevent previously told The Independent that referrals had fallen sharply during the coronavirus pandemic, raising fears that potential threats were not being spotted by probation workers, NHS staff and other agencies that have been forced to reduce contact with vulnerable people.

Chief Superintendent Nik Adams said in April that Isis supporters were calling for attacks on soft targets during lockdown in the hope that police and security services would be “distracted and overwhelmed”.

“We’re seeing the exploitation of the circumstances to encourage acts of violence,” he added.

“My fear is that people have got more opportunity to spend more time in closed echo chambers and online chat forums that reinforce the false narratives, hatred, fear and confusion that could have a radicalising effect.”

Europol’s Terrorism Situation and Trend report for 2019, which was published on Tuesday, warned that coronavirus lockdowns and their economic and societal impact could “escalate some trends”.

“These developments have the potential to further fuel the radicalisation of some individuals, regardless of their ideological persuasion,” said Europol’s executive director, Catherine De Bolle.

“Activists both on the extreme left and right, and those involved in jihadist terrorism, attempt to seize the opportunity the pandemic has created to further propagate their aims.”

Silence held outside school where victim of Reading attack worked

The report said that across the EU, the greatest terror threat emanates from “lone actors” and small cells who are not directed by larger organisations.

It also warned of criminals being drawn into jihad because they see it as “an opportunity for alleged purification and redemption from past sins, all the while justifying violence and crime under the pretext of jihad”.

The report said that several terror attacks in Europe in 2019, including the Fishmongers’ Hall attack in London in November, highlighted the threat from “radicalised prisoners”.

“EU member states reported that individuals imprisoned for terrorist offences and prisoners who radicalise in prison pose a threat both during their imprisonment and after release,” it added.

“The social ties between individuals from criminal and jihadist milieus are frequently reinforced by stays in prison.”

New laws that would force convicted terrorists to spend longer in jail are currently being considered by parliament, amid warnings over radicalisation and terrorist networking in British jails.

An impact assessment commissioned by the Ministry of Justice said that while longer sentences could give terrorists greater opportunity to engage in deradicalisation programmes, there “is a risk of offenders radicalising others during their stays in custody”.

The document also warned that lengthy imprisonment could destroy “protective” relationships with loved ones and increase the risk of reoffending.

A 2016 report on Islamist extremism in prisons commissioned by the Conservative government led to the creation of separation centres to remove influential extremists from the general population, but only one of four units is now in operation.

The author of that report warned this year that it is “all too conceivable that a future terrorist will have been groomed and radicalised within our prison estate”.

As of 31 March, there were 238 people jailed for terror-related offences in the UK, of whom 77 per cent were Islamists and 18 per cent far-right extremists.

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