The first of two victims in Friday’s London Bridge terror attack was named on Saturday as Jack Merritt, 25, a University of Cambridge graduate who worked in its criminology department and had been working at an event prior to the attack where the suspected terrorist was also present.
A second victim, a woman, was not yet named. Three more people were injured in the stabbing attack.
Merritt, 25, was attending a Cambridge University conference on prisoner rehabilitation as part of a program called “Learning Together,” where he was a course coordinator. The event took place at Fishmongers’ Hall at the north end of London Bridge and was attended by dozens of students and former offenders. Among them was the 28-year-old attacker Usman Khan.
Khan is said to have started ranting and waving knives at the conference, as others tried to intervene. Khan began “lashing out” but was “bundled out of the front door as he tried to go upstairs,” according to a Sky News report on Saturday.
“We believe the attack began inside before he left the building and proceeded onto the bridge,” said London police counterterrorism chief Neil Basu on Saturday. Basu said the suspect appeared to be wearing a bomb vest but it turned out to be “a hoax explosive device.”
The Telegraph reported that one of the event’s organizers tried to intervene when Kahn began “ranting and waving two knives around before launching his murderous attack.”
Bystanders helped disarm and restrain Khan after the killings until police arrived. He was shot dead at the scene. Video footage showed a number of people, one with a fire extinguisher and another armed a narwhal tusk, taking Khan to the ground before the arrival of police. The man with the tusk was identified by The Times as Luckasz, a chef from Poland who worked in the hall’s kitchen.
The footage of bystanders – one armed with a fire-extinguisher and a Polish chef with a narwhal tusk – tackling the London Bridge attacker is simply remarkable. Incredible courage. pic.twitter.com/a85D6Up7JA
— Richard Chambers (@newschambers) November 30, 2019
Basu said in a press briefing Saturday that police now know that “some of those present at the event were people who confronted this attacker to try and stop him.”
“The attacker then left the building, he ended up on London Bridge, he was pursued and detained by members of the public as well as a British Transport police officer in plain clothes,” Basu said, before police arrived.
“The actions of the police and the public are all the more remarkable as we now know the attacker was wearing what looked like a very convincing explosive device. Thankfully, we now know that was a hoax device.”
The bystanders who intervened have been hailed as heroes by authorities. London Mayor Sadiq Khan said: “What’s remarkable about the images we’ve seen is the breath-taking heroism of members of the public who literally ran towards danger not knowing what confronted them. They really are the best of us, another example of the bravery and heroism of ordinary Londoners.”
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “I want to thank the emergency services and members of the public for their immense bravery in responding to this suspected terrorist attack at London Bridge.”
Merritt’s father took to Twitter on Saturday to confirm his son’s death, calling him “a beautiful spirit who always took the side of the underdog.”
He added on Twitter: “My son, Jack, who was killed in this attack, would not wish his death to be used as the pretext for more draconian sentences or for detaining people unnecessarily.”
“Jack spoke so highly of all the people he worked with & he loved his job,” he went on.
It was not immediately clear if Merritt and Khan knew each other personally.
Khan had been conditionally released from jail last December after serving less than half of a 16-year sentence for terrorism. Police said Khan was convicted in 2012 of terrorism offenses including an al-Qaeda inspired plot to bomb the London Stock Exchange. He was released in December 2018 on parole. Several British media outlets reported that he was wearing an electronic ankle bracelet at the time of Friday’s attack.
The British government on Saturday vowed a “full review” as the justice system came under intense public scrutiny following the announcement that Khan was a convicted terrorist. Johnson, who visited the scene of the attack Saturday, said those “who have committed terrorist offenses” should not be granted early release.
The British Parole Board in a statement said it had no involvement in the release of Khan “who appears to have been released automatically on license [as required by law] without ever being referred to the Board.”
The UK’s release on parole allows the automatic release of most prisoners at the halfway point of their sentence so long as they meet certain criteria and adhere to certain probationary terms.
Chris Phillips, former head of the UK national counterterrorism security office, made headlines in the British press when he told the Press Association news agency Saturday that the criminal justice system was “playing Russian roulette with people’s lives, letting convicted, known, radicalized Jihadi criminals walk about our streets.”
Phillips said: “We’re letting people out of prison, we’re convicting people for very, very serious offenses and then they are releasing them back into society when they are still radicalized. So how on Earth can we ever ask our police services and our security services to keep us safe?”
Johnson said it was a “mistake to allow serious and violent criminals to come out of prison early.” He said extra police patrols on the streets would be added “for reassurance purposes.”
“I have long said that this system simply isn’t working,” Johnson told the BBC in an on-camera interview from the scene. “It does not make sense for us as a society to put people who have committed terrorist offenses, serious violent offenses, out on early release. People should serve the term of their sentence. That’s our immediate takeaway from this.”
UK PM Boris Johnson says "it does not make sense" to allow those convicted of “serious violent offences” to be granted automatic early release, following Friday's attack on London Bridge by a man convicted of a terrorism offence in 2012
— BBC News (UK) (@BBCNews) November 30, 2019
In Khan’s 2012 sentencing the presiding judge noted that he and two other accomplices were in his judgement “more serious jihadis than the others” and said he believed “these offenders would remain, even after a lengthy term of imprisonment, of such a significant risk that the public could not be adequately protected by their being managed on license in the community, subject to conditions.”
Security Minister Brandon Lewis told Sky News the government would seek “to move very swiftly” to reexamine sentencing in order to protect the public from further attacks.
“After any incident like this, there has to be and always is, a full review and lessons-learned exercise taken forward,” he told BBC Radio. “We have to let the investigation complete itself first, but that will absolutely happen.”
The London mayor told the BBC: “I don’t think it’s right that someone convicted of a serious offense like terrorism should be automatically released.”
Meanwhile, Sky News also reported that Khan was a student and friend of Islamist extremist Anjem Choudary, who was jailed for five-and-a-half years in 2016 but released last year under supervision — also at the halfway point of his sentence.
Choudary is the former head in Britain of Islam4UK or al-Muhajiroun, a now-banned group that called for Islamic law in the UK. Prior to his jailing, he had become Britain’s most prominent radical preacher.
Among those radicalized by Muhajiroun were the suicide bombers who killed 52 people on London’s public transport system in July 2005, and the men who murdered soldier Lee Rigby in the capital in 2013, police say. Choudary had broadcast speeches recognizing Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as the leader of the Islamic State, and in 2011 organized a pro-Osama bin Laden event in London.
In a 2014 interview with AFP, Choudary called on Western journalists, civilians and troops in “Muslim countries” to “completely withdraw and allow us to implement the Sharia.”
Former police terror chief Richard Walton called him a “hardened dangerous terrorist” who had had a “huge influence on Islamist extremism in this country.”
Friday’s attack unfolded just yards from the site of a deadly 2017 van and knife rampage.
Health officials said one of the injured was in critical but stable condition, one was stable and the third had less serious injuries.
Khan had been living in the Staffordshire area of central England, police said. Authorities were carrying searches in Staffordshire in connection to the attack.
That fatal attack also took place days before a general election. Britons are due to go to the polls again on December 12.
Security officials earlier this month downgraded Britain’s terrorism threat level from “severe” to “substantial,” which means an attack is seen as “likely” rather than “highly likely.” The assessment was made by the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre, an independent expert body that evaluates intelligence, terrorist capability and intentions.
The UK’s terror threat was last listed as “substantial” in August 2014; since then it has held steady at “severe,” briefly rising to “critical” in May and September 2017.