Video courtesy of scmp.com
A suspect in Britain who stabbed two people to death in an attack and wounded three others on London Bridge was a former prisoner convicted in 2012 for terrorism offences, police said on Saturday.
Police identified the man, who was shot dead by officers, as 28-year-old Usman Khan, saying they were not actively seeking any other suspects in relation to the incident.
“This individual was known to authorities, having been convicted in 2012 for terrorism offences. He was released from prison in December 2018 on licence and clearly, a key line of enquiry now is to establish how he came to carry out this attack,” Metropolitan Police counterterrorism chief Neil Basu said in a statement.
Khan had been living in the Staffordshire region of central England and officers were searching an address in that area, Basu said.
The suspect was attending a London event hosted by Learning Together – a Cambridge University-backed programme that works to educate prisoners – when he launched the attack, which unfolded just yards from the site of a deadly 2017 van and knife rampage.
“We believe that the attack began inside before he left the building and proceeded onto London Bridge, where he was detained and subsequently confronted and shot by armed officers,” Basu said.
The two people killed in the attack were a man and a woman, Basu said. Three others, a man and two women, were also injured and remained in hospital, he added.
Basu said the suspect appeared to be wearing a bomb vest but it turned out to be “a hoax explosive device”.
Politicians, police officers, the Church of England’s highest cleric and social media users lined up to praise the efforts of a group who wrestled and pinned down then disarmed the suspect on the pavement before armed police arrived.
Several onlookers caught up in the dramatic events captured the incident on mobile phone footage.
“What’s remarkable about the images we’ve seen is the breathtaking heroism of members of the public who literally ran towards danger, not knowing what confronted them,” said London Mayor Sadiq Khan.
“Members of the public didn’t realise at the time that [the vest] was a hoax device and they really are the best of us – another example of the bravery and heroism of ordinary Londoners running towards danger, risking their own personal safety to try and save others.”
As three officers formed a semicircle around the man, pointing their weapons, it took several seconds before the last man got off the suspect. He was pulled away by one of the armed officers just a split-second before another officer fired.
A man in a suit and tie was seen standing by the suspect holding a knife in his right hand.
He then retreated several paces as armed police officers arrived. He urged people to get back after the two shots were fired, waving them away with his left hand.
Stevie Hurst said he saw people running away but felt “compelled” to jump out of his car and go towards the incident.
“The guys were just screaming, ‘He’s stabbed a couple of women’,” the tour guide told BBC radio.
“Everyone was just on top of him trying to bundle him to the ground,” Hurst said.
“I saw that the knife was still in his hand so I just put a foot in to try and kick him in the head: we were trying to do as much as we could to try and dislodge the knife,” he said. “The guys that were there were just amazing. Absolutely incredible people. Heroes beyond belief.”
Hurst said that as the suspect was being pinned down, he was “constantly screaming ‘get off me’”, but “we wanted to make sure that he’s never going to do this again”.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson paid tribute to the “extraordinary bravery of those members of the public who physically intervened to protect the lives of others”.
“They represent the very best of our country and I thank them on behalf of all of our country,” Johnson added.
The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said: “What a privilege to live in a country where casual passers-by are so astonishingly brave.”
The attacker’s history will raise difficult questions for Britain’s government and security services.
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 on 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 on December 12. The main political parties temporarily suspended campaigning in London as a mark of respect.
London Bridge was the scene of a June 2017 attack when Islamic State-inspired attackers ran down people on the bridge, killing two, before stabbing several people to death in nearby Borough Market.
In March 2017, an attacker fatally struck four people with a car on nearby Westminster Bridge then fatally stabbed a police officer before security forces shot and killed him in a courtyard outside Parliament.