Reading terror attacker attempts to appeal whole-life prison sentence

Khairi Saadallah denied a terrorist motivation and a defence lawyer said he was affected by mental health issues

Lizzie Dearden
Security Correspondent
Monday 04 October 2021 18:42
<p>Khairi Saadallah was given a whole-life term for the Reading terror attack</p>

Khairi Saadallah was given a whole-life term for the Reading terror attack

The Reading terror attacker is attempting to appeal his whole-life prison sentence.

Khairi Saadallah, 26, was told he would never be freed after murdering three people and injuring three more in a frenzied stabbing spree as they socialised in a park.

Sentencing him in January, a judge said it was a “rare and exceptional case in which just punishment requires that you must be kept in prison for the rest of your life”.

The terrorist is seeking permission to challenge the whole-life order handed down at the Old Bailey. His case will be heard at the Court of Appeal in London on 14 October.

Saadallah committed the attack in under a minute in Forbury Gardens on 20 June 2020, targeting two groups of friends socialising in the park after lockdown restrictions were relaxed.

The court heard that his assault was so swift and brutal, that the men who died did not have a chance to react or defend themselves.

The Libyan asylum seeker killed teacher James Furlong, 36, scientist David Wails, 49, and US citizen Joseph Ritchie-Bennett, 39.

He also stabbed their friend Stephen Young, who survived, then moved on to the second group, where he stabbed Patrick Edwards and Nishit Nisudan, who also survived.

In emotional victim impact statements read to the court, bereaved relatives told of their agony and said Saadallah had “brutally killed three of the nicest men in the world“.

The defence had argued that Saadallah should not receive a whole-life order, claiming that there was no extremist motivation and that his culpability was reduced by his mental health.

But a judge said the rare sentence was a correct starting point, because of the “exceptionally high” seriousness of the offences, the fact the attack was premeditated and Saadallah’s terrorist motivation.

Mr Justice Sweeney found that the knifeman “did not, and does not, have any major mental illness” and that concerning behaviour flagged with a mental health unit two days before the attack were “the product of drug consumption”.

Police release footage of Reading attacker being arrested

He ruled that the attack was committed for a “religious, political or ideological cause”, after Saadallah shouted “God is the greatest” and “God accept my jihad” in Arabic during the attack.

The judge said Saadallah “held extremist Islamic views” while fighting for the Ansar al-Sharia militia in Libya as a teenager, during the country’s civil war, and continued to hold that mindset despite issues with drink and drugs.

He highlighted Saadallah’s viewing of photos of himself with weapons, images of an Isis flag and association with a hate preacher while in prison for previous offences.

Handwritten notes found in his bedroom talked of carrying out jihad and being rewarded by virgins in paradise, and called for the death of “sorcerers and all their supporters”.

A defence lawyer argued at trial that while Saadallah had a “fleeting or occasional interest” in Islamist ideology, it was not the motive for the attack.

The Old Bailey heard that Saadallah had converted to Christianity more than a year before the attack, previously worshipped at a church and had a cross tattooed on his leg.

He had also repeatedly searched for information on “black magic” and witchcraft, and the defence argued that he should be given a lower prison sentence because of reduced culpability.

A psychologist cited by the prosecution concluded that the Reading attack was “unrelated to the effects of either mental disorder or substance misuse”.

Justice Sweeney found that Saadallah was not suffering from a mental disorder or mental disability which lowered his degree of culpability for the attack.

He added: “Whilst the offences were shaped by features of the defendant’s personality disorder, there was no substantial impairment of his ability to understand the nature of his conduct, to form a rational judgment or to exercise self-control.

“I am sure that during the defendant’s police interviews, he made crude attempts to portray himself as ‘mad’ at the material time.”

The judge also found that Saadallah had lied about his fighting experience with Ansar al-Sharia, which was later banned as a terrorist group in Britain, while applying for asylum in 2012.

After his arrival in the UK, he committed 16 criminal offences including two of racially or religiously aggravated harassment, eight violent crimes and two involving knife possession.

The day before Saadallah was released from his most recent prison sentence on 5 June, the Home Office notified him of their intention to deport him, but no steps could currently be taken because of the ongoing Libyan conflict.