US ambassador confirms American among UK terror victims
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US ambassador confirms American among UK terror victims

Stabbing attack suspect, a Libyan refugee, reportedly left prison earlier this month, was on MI5’s watch list

Police stand guard at the Abbey gateway of Forbury Gardens park in Reading town center following Saturday's stabbing attack in the gardens, June 21, 2020. (Jonathan Brady/PA via AP)
Police stand guard at the Abbey gateway of Forbury Gardens park in Reading town center following Saturday's stabbing attack in the gardens, June 21, 2020. (Jonathan Brady/PA via AP)

LONDON — An American man was among the three victims stabbed to death in a park in the English town of Reading that is being treated as a terror attack, the US ambassador to Britain confirmed Monday.

Ambassador Woody Johnson offered his “deepest condolences” to the families of those killed in the attack on June 20. A 25-year-old man who is believed to be the lone attacker is in custody but officials said the motive for the carnage was unclear.

“Our thoughts are with all those affected,” Johnson said. “We condemn the attack absolutely and have offered our assistance to British law enforcement.”

Three people were killed and three others seriously wounded in the stabbing attack Saturday evening in Forbury Gardens park in Reading, a town of 200,000 people 40 miles (64 kilometres) west of London.

A Floral tribute is seen at a police cordon at the Abbey Gateway near Forbury Gardens park in Reading, west of London, on June 20, 2020 following a fatal stabbing incident the previous day. (Photo by Ben STANSALL / AFP)

The Philadelphia Inquirer named the American victim as Joe Ritchie-Bennett, a friend of James Furlong, a history teacher named by his school as one of the victims.

Ritchie-Bennett was 39 and had moved to England from the US around 15 years ago. His father, Robert Ritchie, said his son worked for a law firm in London before taking a job about 10 years ago at a Dutch pharmaceutical company that had its British headquarters in Reading.

Britain’s official terrorism threat level remains at “substantial” after the attack.

British media said the suspect, widely identified as Khairi Saadallah, a Libyan refugee, fled the civil war in Libya and had been released from prison earlier this month, after serving time for a series of non-terror offenses.

He briefly came to the attention of the domestic intelligence agency MI5 last year and was said to have planned to travel abroad, reportedly to Syria.

But he was not deemed to be a substantial risk. His mental health is understood to be a factor for investigating officers.

Mark Rowley, a former assistant commissioner for specialist operations in the Metropolitan Police, said Saadallah would have been one of thousands of people on MI5’s watch list.

Some 3,000 people are under investigation at any one time but there are up to 40,000 people who have come up on the radar in relation to extremist ideology, he told BBC radio.

“To spot one of those who is going to go from a casual interest into a determined attacker… is the most wicked problem that the services face,” he added.

The reports about the suspect’s time in prison will again raise questions about the early release of offenders after two previous terror attacks in the past year.

In November, a convicted jihadist on parole was shot dead by police after stabbing five people — two fatally — near London Bridge in the heart of the British capital.

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