December 01, 2019
MI5 begins inquiry into Usman Khan, who they believe acted alone when he killed two
Floral tributes for victims of Friday’s attack, carried out by Usman Khan, who investigators believe acted alone. Photograph: Yui Mok/PA
By Vikram Dodd Police and crime correspondent | The Guardian
Investigators have said they believe that Usman Khan got the materials for his attack on London Bridge as little as 24 hours before he struck, as MI5 began an inquiry into how a suspect who was under “active investigation” managed to kill.
Khan, 28, is believed by investigators to have acted alone when he stabbed two people to death while wearing a fake suicide bomb belt he is thought to have made.
An urgent investigation by MI5 and Scotland Yard counter-terrorism command believes he hatched his plot without help from anyone else.
He was convicted in 2012 of a terror plot and freed halfway through his sentence in December 2018.
Six of those convicted with him who have been released from jail have been urgently examined since Friday’s attack in case the dangers they pose may have been underestimated.
On Sunday, police said a 34-year-old who had been convicted with Khan was arrested, “in connection to a wider ongoing review of existing licence conditions of convicted terrorism offenders”.
His home was searched and he was arrested on suspicion of preparing terrorist acts. Police said they did not believe he was connected to the London Bridge attack.
Hundreds more suspects, unconnected to Khan, are also being reexamined to check that no warning signs have been missed, after the first attack in Britain to claim a life since 2017.
Khan is only the second suspect under active investigation by MI5 who has gone on to kill – the first was the ringleader of the 2017 attack on London Bridge, Khuram Butt.
A Whitehall source told the Guardian: “Khan was under active investigation. There was nothing in his behaviour to provoke undue concern.”
Khan was a priority 3 suspect, the same as other prisoners released after being imprisoned for serious terrorism offences.
Khan’s terms of release meant there were conditions restricting his communications and he was, for instance, not allowed to have a smartphone to access the internet.
He was on MI5’s list of 3,000 suspects under active investigation, and so called “trip wires” were in place if he showed alarming behaviour.
The Whitehall source confirmed Khan was not assessed as posing a danger of planning an attack, and was subjected to limited monitoring by MI5.
“Resources are deployed proportionate to the information we have on people. Given the dozens of people involved or associated with plots to attack the UK, resources are deployed there. He fell well below that place.”
The threat from Islamist terrorism and the volume of work that generates for counter-terrorism investigators had dropped slightly recently, but is still well above the levels in 2015, before the rise of Isis and its social media propaganda inciting attacks led the threat to leap.
Friday’s incident has echoes of the 2017 attack on London Bridge. Khan and Butt both strapped knives to their wrists and also constructed fake bomb belts. Both had been close to the al-Muhajiroun group, whose spokesperson was jailed Islamic State supporter Anjem Choudar, but had moved away.
Khan was moving away from al-Muhajiroun even before his arrest in 2010 for terrorism, with the group still adhering to a “covenant of security” – meaning its adherents should not actively support attacks against the UK, investigators believe.
The Whitehall source dismissed an Isis claim that it was behind the attack, but said the group’s influence via its propaganda and past attacks remains: “Low sophistication attacks are difficult to stop and get a lot of attention.”
All those injured or killed in Friday’s attack were stabbed at a meeting on the rehabilitation of prisoners organised by the charity Learning Together held at Fishmongers’ Hall, close to London Bridge.
Khan is believed to have travelled from his bedsit in Stafford, where he lived alone, and sat through the conference until just after 1.50pm. Then he went to the bathroom with a bag, and returned clad in the fake suicide vest with knives strapped to his wrists, and started his attack.
Toby Williamson, who runs Fishmongers’ Hall, told the BBC of the terror when Khan started his attack and the heroic reactions of those present as they fought for their lives: “This is extraordinary things happening, done by ordinary people.”
He said one person tried to shut the door on the “vicious” knifeman while another called the police as two others, named as Andy and Łukasz, took the attacker on: “They used fire extinguishers, they used chairs. They used these narwhal tusks ripped off the wall, in the heat of the moment. And they took the game back to the knifeman.”