U.K.’s Johnson Pressured on Jail Terms After London Bridge Attack

LONDON (Reuters) -
A police officer stands next to forensic tents outside a property, which is being searched in connection with Friday’s stabbing on London Bridge, in which two people were killed, in Stafford, Britain, Nov. 30. (Reuters/Henry Nicholls)

The London Bridge attack pushed law and order towards the top of the British political agenda on Saturday, with days to go before a snap election, after police said the assailant had previously been convicted of terrorism offenses but freed early from jail.

Usman Khan, wearing a fake suicide vest and wielding knives, went on the rampage at a conference on criminal rehabilitation beside London Bridge on Friday, killing two people. The 28-year-old Briton was wrestled to the ground by bystanders and then shot dead by police.

Police said on Saturday that Khan had been convicted in 2012 for his part in an al-Qaida-inspired plot to blow up the London Stock Exchange. He was released in December 2018 subject to conditions.

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the main opposition Labour Party, criticized the government’s sentencing policies.

“There’s got to be a very full investigation,” said Corbyn, who is seeking to depose Prime Minister Boris Johnson in the election on Dec. 12 but trails in opinion polls.

“I think there is also a question about what the probation service were doing … and whether the parole board should have been involved in deciding whether or not he should have been allowed to be released from prison in the first place,” he said.

Earlier, Johnson said the London Bridge attack was a terrorist act and vowed to end a practice whereby serious offenders can be automatically let out of prison early.

“I have long said that this system simply isn’t working,” he said after visiting the scene of the attack on Saturday.

The Islamic State terror group said the attack on Friday was carried out by one of its fighters and was in response to its calls to target countries that had been part of a coalition fighting the terror group, according to its Amaq news agency. The group did not provide any evidence for its assertion.

A man and a woman were killed in the attack, with local media naming one of the victims as Jack Merritt, a course coordinator for Learning Together, a prisoners’ rehabilitation program which held the conference at Fishmongers’ Hall.

Three people remain in the hospital with two victims in stable condition while a third person is suffering from less serious injuries, according to the National Health Service.

Police said they were continuing their investigation by searching an address in Stafford and the Stoke areas of central England, with the country’s top counterterrorism officer saying they were not looking for any other suspects.

“We have found no evidence to suggest anybody else was involved in this attack,” said Neil Basu. “Our investigative priority at this time is to ensure that there is no related outstanding threat to the public.”

London Bridge was the scene of an attack during the 2017 election when three terrorists drove a van into pedestrians and then attacked people in the surrounding area, killing eight people and injuring at least 48.

Islamic State said its terrorists were responsible for that attack, but the British authorities have cast doubt on those claims. The 2017 attack focused attention on cuts to policing since the ruling Conservatives took power in 2010.

Friday’s attack prompted a pause in election campaigning, but scaled-back activities resumed on Saturday, ahead of the election that could decide the fate of Brexit.

Law and order is now likely to feature more prominently in the campaign in the coming days.

The Conservatives could fail to win an overall majority during next month’s election according to a BMG poll published on Saturday, conducted before the attack. It showed their lead over Labour had fallen to six points from 13 a week ago.