Usman Khan, a previously convicted terrorist, killed two people and injured three others in a knife attack Friday on London Bridge.
As British authorities unraveled the story behind the attack, one main question emerged: Why was he even on the street?
This week’s London knife attacker was convicted in 2012 of terrorism offenses and, although he was sentenced to 16 years in prison, he was released in December 2018 “on license,” which the Associated Press said “means he had to meet certain conditions or face recall to prison.” He was also reportedly wearing an ankle bracelet to monitor his whereabouts.
He was arrested in 2010 for his role in an al Qaeda-inspired terror group that plotted to bomb the U.S. Embassy and the London Stock Exchange. They also planned to kill Boris Johnson, then the mayor of London but now Prime Minister.
Khan, along with two co-conspirators, was at first given an indeterminate sentence that would have allowed for authorities to keep him behind bars indefinitely if they thought he posed a risk to the public. But that ruling was later quashed and he was given a 16-year sentence, then released after only eight years.
Backlash was swift. “The former head of Britain’s National Counter Terrorism Security Office, Chris Phillips, said it is wrong to ask police and security services to keep the country safe while letting people out of prison when they are still a threat,” the AP wrote.
“We’re playing Russian roulette with people’s lives, letting convicted, known, radicalized jihadi criminals walk about our streets,” he said.
Johnson, who visited the scene Saturday, said he had “long argued” that it was a “mistake to allow serious and violent criminals to come out of prison early.”
Another politician, Labour’s Yvette Cooper, blasted the early release, writing on Twitter that “Khan was sentenced for serious terror offence in Feb 2012. Thought to be so dangerous by judge he was given IPP sentence to prevent release if still serious threat. Instead he was released 6 yrs later without Parole Board assessment. How could this be allowed to happen?”
But Home Secretary Priti Patel angrily responded, saying: “Because legislation brought in by your government in 2008 meant that dangerous terrorists had to automatically be released after half of their jail term. Conservatives changed the law in 2012 to end your automatic release policy but Khan was convicted before this.”
IPP stands for “Imprisonment for Public Protection.” They were first introduced in 2003 and applied to violent or sexual offenders who could be held after their sentences ended if they were deemed to pose a serious risk to the public.
Such sentences, though, were “abolished in 2012 under David Cameron’s Conservative government in a policy introduced by then Justice Secretary Ken Clarke – although existing prisoners serving indeterminate sentences would continue to do so,” The Daily Mail writes.
The government at the time promised new provisions would protect the public from dangerous criminals, who would have previously received indeterminate sentences.
The following year in April 2013, Khan appealed against his indeterminate sentence and it was quashed by Lord Justice Leveson at the Court of Appeal, and he was given a determinate 16-year jail term, meaning he would be automatically released after eight years, half of his sentence.
The man who stabbed several people on Friday has long been known to British law enforcement. Said the AP:
Khan and his accomplices had links to radical preacher Anjem Choudary. A mobile phone seized at the time contained material related to the banned group that Choudary founded. The preacher was released from prison in 2018 but is under heavy surveillance and a curfew.
Choudary for years has been one of the highest-profile faces of radical Islam in Britain, leading groups including al-Muhajiroun, Islam4UK and Muslims Against Crusades. Several people who attended his rallies have been convicted of attacks, including the two al-Qaida-inspired killers who ran over British soldier Lee Rigby and stabbed him to death in 2013.