Usman Khan: How the London Bridge terrorist was radicalised, jailed and released to go on a stabbing spree
Usman Khan, the 28-year-old terrorist who stabbed two people to death on London Bridge, was a teenager when he was first recognised by security services.
At age 19 he was the youngest of a group of four men from Stoke-on-Trent who took an active part in their local branch of Al-Muhajiroun – the militant Salafi jihadi organisation that counted notorious radical cleric Anjem Choudary among its ranks.
It was at that time the group began to attract the interest of security services, including MI5, after they began to engage in public-street preaching to attempt to win others over to their radical perception of Islam.
Behind the scenes their action was more direct – on one occasion plotting to bomb a number of local pubs following the growth of the English Defence League (EDL) and the British National Party (BNP) in the area.
But it was their long-term planning that led a judge to later determine Khan as a “significant risk to the public”. Khan, along with accomplice Nazam Hussein, had planned to open a militant training camp in land owned by the teenager’s family in Kashmir.
Under the guise of an Islamic religious school, or madrassa, the two planned to use the site as a base, offering firearms training for jihadi operations in Kashmir and Pakistan with a view to return to the UK at an unspecified future date to carry out terrorist activity.
As they plotted the building of the camp – planning to fund the operation in part through fraudulent activity including job seekers allowance claims – they formed part of a group of nine from across the UK looking to further the jihadi cause. They are believed to have encountered one another through national jihadi marches and events.
With attendees from London, Birmingham and Cardiff present across two meetings of the nine in Welsh parks, two plans emerged – the Stoke group’s idea for the Kashmiri madrassa, and a plot from the remaining members of the group to carry out a number of bomb plots.
At first, potential targets included Westminster Abbey, the London Eye, Boris Johnson’s then-Mayoral Office, the US Embassy and the Church of Scientology – however, it was eventually decided the group would plot to place a pipe bomb in the toilet of the London Stock Exchange.
While the Stoke group erred on the side of their long-term idea, both groups were fully aware of each other’s plans, according to court filings.
However, before he and Hussein could travel to Kashmir in January 2011, he was arrested along with other members of the jihadi planning group under Operation Norbury. After months of surveillance the security services decided to move in after hearing Khan and members of the Stoke group discussing pipe bomb instructions from an Al-Qaeda magazine.
Khan’s then-home in Persia Walk, Stoke, was extensively bugged during the operation. In one recording, he could be heard saying there were three options for the group: “There’s victory, what we hope for, there’s shahada (death as martyrs), or there’s prison.”
At the time Anjem Choudary said of the Stoke cell “they were students of mine. They studied the Sharia with me and I knew them for quite a while.”
Handing down his sentence on 2012, judge Justice Wilkie said the Stoke group surpassed even the threat of the others, those plotting to bomb the London Stock Exchange.
“It is clear that this was a serious long-term venture in terrorism,” he said, “the purpose of which was to establish and manage a terrorist training facility at the madrassa, to fund-raise for its construction and operation by use of various means, including fraud, and to recruit young British Muslims to go there and train, thereafter being available to commit terrorism abroad and at home.
“In my judgement these offenders would remain, even after a lengthy term of imprisonment, of such a significant risk that the public could not be adequately protected by their being managed on licence in the community.”
Initially the judge handed down a minimum sentence of eight years – reduced due to the terrorist’s age – but with a commitment to only release Khan once he was assessed not to be a threat to the public, known as Imprisonment for Public Protection sentence. He was due to be monitored for 30 years following his release.
However, this indefinite sentence was later relaxed after an appeal – with Khan told to serve at least eight years of a 16-year fixed term sentence. By then, the IPP system had been abolished, so that condition for his release was no longer extant.
Lord Justice Leveson said at the time: “There is no doubt that anyone convicted of this type of offence could legitimately be considered dangerous.
“There is an argument for concluding that anyone convicted of such an offence should be incentivised to demonstrate that he can safely be released; such a decision is then better left to the Parole Board for consideration proximate in time to the date when release becomes possible.”
The Parole Board, ultimately, did not decide on his release – instead he was allowed to walk free automatically on licence in December 2018 – just under a year before he would carry out his attack.
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