London attacker ID’d as ex-terror convict, reportedly had Islamic extremist ties

Usman Khan, who killed 2 in terror stabbing spree, was released from prison last year after serving six years for terrorism offenses; one victim still in critical condition

Usman Khan, suspect in a fatal terrorist stabbing spree in London, November 29, 2019. (West Midlands Police)
Usman Khan, suspect in a fatal terrorist stabbing spree in London, November 29, 2019. (West Midlands Police)

British police on Friday night identified the terrorist who killed two people in a stabbing attack near London Bridge as Usman Khan, a 28-year-old who was released on probation last year after serving six years for terrorism offenses.

Khan, wearing a fake explosive vest, stabbed five people before being tackled by members of the public and then fatally shot by officers.

British media, citing security sources, reported that he had links to Islamic extremist groups and was known to the UK’s MI5 intelligence agency.

Metropolitan Police Chief Cressida Dick said two stabbing victims had died and three injured people were being treated in hospitals after the attack, which unfolded just yards from the site of a deadly 2017 van and knife rampage.

The deceased victims were reported to be a man and a woman but have not yet been identified.

Health officials said one of the injured was in critical but stable condition, one was stable and the third had less serious injuries.

Police forensic officers work where a man was killed on London Bridge following a terror stabbing spree in London, November 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

Khan had been living in the Staffordshire area of central England, police said. Authorities were carrying searches in Staffordshire in connection to the attack.

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 license,” which meant he had to meet certain conditions or face recall to prison. Several British media outlets reported that he was wearing an electronic ankle bracelet at the time of Friday’s attack.

London police counterterrorism chief Neil Basu said Khan was attending a London event at Fishmongers’ Hall hosted by Learning Together — a Cambridge-based organization that works to educate prisoners — when he launched the attack.

“We believe the attack began inside before he left the building and proceeded onto the bridge.” he said. Basu said the suspect appeared to be wearing a bomb vest but it turned out to be “a hoax explosive device.”

The attacker’s history will raise difficult questions for Britain’s government and security services. Basu said police were not actively looking for any other suspects.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he had “long argued” that it was a “mistake to allow serious and violent criminals to come out of prison early.”

“It is very important that we get out of that habit and that we enforce the appropriate sentences for dangerous criminals, especially for terrorists, that I think the public will want to see,” he said.

Johnson, who chaired a meeting of the government’s COBRA emergency committee late Friday, said more police would be patrolling the streets in the coming days “for reassurance purposes.”

The violence erupted less than two weeks before Britain holds a national election. The main political parties temporarily suspended campaigning in London as a mark of respect.

Dick, the police chief, said officers were called just before 2 p.m. to Fishmongers’ Hall, a conference venue at the north end of London Bridge. The pedestrian and vehicle bridge links the city’s business district with the south bank of the River Thames.

People are evacuated from near London Bridge in central London following a stabbing incident, November 29, 2019 (Dominic Lipinski/PA via AP)

Learning Together was holding a conference there on Friday. The University of Cambridge said it was “gravely concerned” about students, staff and alumni who might have been caught up in the attack.

Minutes after the stabbings report, witnesses saw a man with a knife being wrestled to the ground by members of the public on the bridge before armed-response officers shot him dead.

Video images showed people spraying the fleeing suspect with a fire extinguisher, while another passer-by held what appeared to be a long white stick. Witness Amy Coop, who was at the Fishmongers’ Hall, said it was a narwhal tusk the civilian had grabbed from a wall before going to confront the attacker.

One video posted on social media showed two men struggling on the bridge before police pulled a man in civilian clothes off a black-clad man on the ground. Gunshots followed. Another depicted a man in suit and overcoat holding a long knife that apparently had been taken from the attacker.

Karen Bosch, who was on a bus crossing the bridge, said she saw police “wrestling with one tall, bearded man” and then heard “gunshots, two loud pops.”

She said the man “pulled his coat back which showed that he had some sort of vest underneath, whether it’s a stab vest, or some sort of explosive vest, the police then really quickly moved backwards, away.”

Another bus passenger, Amanda Hunter, told the BBC that the vehicle she was in “all of a sudden stopped and there was commotion and I looked out the window and I just saw these three police officers going over to a man.”

“It seemed like there was something in his hand, I’m not 100% sure, but then one of the police officers shot him.”

Armed police with dogs patrol along Cannon Street in central London, on November 29, 2019 after a stabbing attack on London Bridge. (Ben STANSALL / AFP)

Police confirmed that the man died at the scene.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan praised the “breathtaking heroism of members of the public who literally ran towards danger not knowing what confronted him.”

“They are the best of us,” Khan said.

Cars and buses on the busy bridge stood abandoned after the shooting, with a white truck stopped diagonally across the lanes. Video footage showed police pointing guns at the truck before moving to check its container.

London Bridge station, one of the city’s busiest rail hubs, was closed for several hours after the attack.

Scores of police, some armed with submachine guns, ushered office workers and tourists out of the area packed with office buildings, banks, restaurants and bars. Staff in nearby office blocks were told to stay inside.

As police cleared the streets, staff in shops and restaurants ushered customers into storerooms and basements. Some had been through similar traumatic events in June 2017, when eight people died in a van and knife attack launched by three people inspired by the Islamic State group. The attackers ran down people on the bridge, killing two, before fatally stabbing several people in nearby Borough Market.

That fatal attack took place days before a general election. Britons are due to go to the polls again on December 12.

Political leaders expressed shock and sorrow at Friday’s attack.

“We will not be cowed by those who threaten us,” Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said. “We must and we will stand together to reject hatred and division.”

Both Labour and the Conservatives suspended campaigning in the city after the attack and the prime minister was also canceling political events for Saturday.

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.

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