Terror checks intensify as London attack enters election fray

Published December 2, 2019
Police officers (left) stand inside a cordon beside floral tributes left close to the London Bridge.—AFP
Police officers (left) stand inside a cordon beside floral tributes left close to the London Bridge.—AFP

LONDON: Britain’s Boris Johnson said on Sunday the security services were stepping up monitoring of convicted terrorists released early from prison, as the London Bridge attack became embroiled in the election campaign.

The prime minister revealed officials were scrutinising around 74 people with terrorist convictions who had been released early from prison like Usman Khan, who left jail last December and went on to stab two people to death in Friday’s rampage.

“They are being properly invigilated to make sure there is no threat,” Johnson told the BBC. “We’ve taken a lot of action as you can imagine in the last 48 hours.”

Khan, 28, was shot dead wearing a fake explosives vest by police on London Bridge after a stabbing spree launched in a nearby hall hosting an ex-offender event that also left three people injured. Police on Sunday formally named the two victims killed as Jack Merritt, 25, from Cambridgeshire in eastern England, and 23-year-old Saskia Jones of Warwickshire in the West Midlands.

After searching on Saturday two properties in central England believed to be linked to Khan, police have said they believe he was acting alone and are not seeking anybody else.

But the Islamic State group has released a statement claiming responsibility for the attack.

Khan has become a contentious political issue ahead of Britain’s Dec 12 election, with Johnson blaming the previous Labour government for changing the law in 2008 to allow for the early release of prisoners.

The Conservative leader vowed that if he reclaims power this month he will end early release for terrorist offences and introduce minimum 14-year sentences, with some convicted never to be released.

Johnson penned an article setting out the new stance in The Mail on Sunday newspaper, under the headline: “Give me a majority and I’ll keep you safe from terror”.

Critics have hit out fiercely at Johnson for appearing to politicise Friday’s attack — including the father of Jack Merritt.

David Merritt wrote on Twitter that his son as “a beautiful spirit who always took the side of the underdog”. “We don’t need knee-jerk reactions,” he added in a series of messages responding to the political furor around the attack.

“It’s not lenient policies that are to blame, it’s the destruction of the probation service that is supposed to monitor and supervise prisoners after release, & rehabilitation services,” he added. “Since 2010 these service(s) have been cut to the bone. We are all less safe as a result.”

That’s also the view of Johnson’s main opposition, the Labour Party which noted that his Conservatives have been in power for nearly a decade but had chosen not to tighten the laws around terrorism sentencing.

“I think there has to be an examination of how our prison services work and crucially what happens to them on release from prison,” Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told Sky News.

He would not commit to ending early release in all scenarios for terrorism offences. “I think it depends on the circumstances and it depends on the sentence but crucially depends on what they’ve done in prison,” Corbyn said.

Published in Dawn, December 2nd, 2019

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