LONDON – Prime Minister Boris Johnson vowed Saturday to review Britain’s sentencing system after a convicted terrorist released early from prison stabbed two people to death and wounded three in a London Bridge attack.
Members of the public were hailed as heroes for preventing greater loss of life by tackling Usman Khan — one armed with a narwhal tusk — before police shot him dead.
Video footage of the confrontation showed Khan, 28, being challenged by a man, reportedly a Polish chef, wielding the tusk — believed to have been grabbed from the historic hall where the stabbings began — as another person sprayed him with the extinguisher.
He had been conditionally released from prison last December after serving less than half of a 16-year sentence for terrorism, and was wearing a fake explosive device.
On Saturday, the Islamic State group released a statement claiming responsibility for the attack.
The incident comes two years after Islamist extremists in a van plowed into pedestrians on London Bridge before attacking people at random with knives in nearby Borough Market. On that occasion, eight people were killed and 48 wounded before the three attackers, who were wearing fake suicide devices, were shot dead by police.
Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu said five people had been stabbed inside Fishmonger’s Hall near London Bridge before members of the public pursued the attacker. The three survivors remain hospitalized.
Basu added that Khan had been released under “an extensive list of license conditions” with which he had previously been complying.
The attack came less than two weeks before Britain’s election, and thrust the issue of terrorism into the heart of the campaign.
Johnson pledged to introduce minimum 14-year sentences for serious terrorist offenses, while some convicted might never be released, and to scrap early release if he wins a majority.
But Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn appeared to raise doubts about the Tories’ handling of the parole and wider justice system in light of the attack.
“We need to investigate fully the way all aspects of the criminal justice system operate,” he said, branding the London Bridge incident “a complete disaster.”
The first victim of the attack was named as Jack Merritt, a course coordinator at Cambridge University’s criminology institute, according to media reports.
The institute hosted a prisoner rehabilitation event at Fishmonger’s Hall, a historic building on the north side of the bridge. Khan attended the event reportedly armed with two knives and the fake suicide vest.
As the confrontation moved from inside the hall to the sidewalk outside, a throng of people could be seen in videos grappling with Khan. They reportedly included a convicted killer on day-release from prison and other ex-offenders also attending the criminology gathering.
Khan, a British national, was part of an eight-man network inspired by al-Qaida who had plotted to bomb targets including the London Stock Exchange, and planned to take part in “terrorist training” in Pakistan. He was handed an indeterminate sentence for the protection of the public in 2012, with at least eight years in prison. But his sentence was quashed by the Court of Appeal in April 2013 and he received a new 21-year term, comprising a custodial sentence of 16 years and five years on conditional release.
Inmates are usually released halfway through this type of determinate sentence — and time spent in custody before trial may have been taken into account.
The Parole Board said it had no involvement in his release and that it appeared to have happened automatically as required by law.