In the past few years the UK has enjoyed a relatively peaceful period, outside of the Brexit ordeal at least. That peace was interrupted this past Friday when a man armed with a kitchen knife stabbed and killed two people and injured three others. Though there is limited information at the moment, we can still use prior convictions and witness interviews to paint a fuller picture. Understanding this case means approaching it from three different angles: What we know about the attack, what we know about the attacker, and what may have led to the attack.
On the afternoon of November 29th, a conference was being held at Fishmongers’ Hall in central London. The conference was celebrating the fifth anniversary of the Learning Together Prison Program. The attacker, who was later identified as 28-year-old Usman Khan, was in attendance at the conference. The attack itself began at 1:58 pm in that very hall. Other attendees of the conference used chairs and decorative pieces to fend him off and eventually forced him out of the building towards the North end of the London bridge. In heroic display, two men held off Usman while others stepped in to pin him down. The people holding him down were then moved away by police due to suspicions of a suicide vest being involved. Khan was then shot by an officer and died on the scene. In total the attacker claimed two lives and injured three others.
The two victims were identified as Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones. Both of them were students at Cambridge University and were involved with the prisoner rehabilitation program there. The news of their passing came as a shock to the community as they were both described as positive influences on the people around them.
Usman Khan was not a model citizen in the time leading up to the attack. He had a disturbing and well documented past—and the media has not hesitated to draw conclusions based on this.
Khan was just one of nine men apprehended in MI5’s anti-terror Operation Guava. All 9 men plead guilty to Al-Qaeda-inspired terrorism offenses, which included plans to bomb the London Stock Exchange and to build a terrorist training camp in land his family owns in Kashmir. In 2012 Khan received an indeterminate sentence which carries a minimum prison time of 8 years, however this was later replaced by a 16 year term. He was allowed to leave prison on a ‘temporary release license’ in December of 2018. The terms of his release imposed heavy travel restrictions and required that he wear an ankle monitor at all times. He was granted special permission to travel to London for the conference which would subsequently become the scene of the terrorist attack.
Jeremy Corbyn of the Labour party has received heavy fire for the questionable release of Usman Khan. He says that terrorists and similar offenders “can be released early if they have been successfully rehabilitated”. Corbyn claims that the early release of high profile criminals should only come after a thorough evaluation of said criminal, and that this was one instance where the system had failed. The UK Parole Board which normally oversees these release agreements put out a statement claiming that they were not involved with Khan.
Though authorities are still trying to get all the facts, it is likely that this incident will be a hot topic during the upcoming general election. Prisoner reform laws are hotly contested in all progressive first world countries and the UK is no exception. With the next administration we may see parole laws tighten down to prevent attacks like this in the future but only time will tell.