LONDON: Britain’s terrorism watchdog has warned that the country’s jails were promoting a culture of “violent ideological hostility” that could lead to more attacks.
In November 2019, Usman Khan, 28, killed two people — Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones — while attending a prisoner rehabilitation conference in central London, just 11 months after his own early release from jail.
Khan had spent eight years behind bars for terrorist activities, including plotting to blow up the London Stock Exchange and planning to set up a terrorist training camp on family-owned land in Pakistan.
He stabbed Jones, 23, and Merritt, 25, to death before being shot dead by police, who killed him when they saw the mock suicide vest he was wearing — a killing that was ruled lawful by a jury on Thursday.
Jonathan Hall QC, an independent reviewer of terrorist legislation, is preparing a report on terrorism and extremism in the UK’s prisons.
He said that Islamist extremism behind bars was making prisoners see violence as acceptable when they were released.
Khan’s case, Hall noted, highlighted “a culture of accepting and promoting violent ideological hostility within certain prison wings.”
He added: “One point of detail from the inquests really stands out for me: This is the fact that Khan was seeking to impress a higher status terrorist offender and impress himself as a Muslim enforcer on weaker prisoners.”
The inquests were told that, during his eight years in a series of high-security facilities, Khan had been an emir of Muslim inmates, radicalized prisoners, and was linked to violent attacks.
He was also behind forced conversions and wanted to impose his interpretation of Shariah law in prison.
“Khan’s violence toward staff and prisoners is an attempt to extend and consolidate the power of this culture,” Hall said.
The extremist culture increased the risk “that prisoners will decide that terrorist violence is legitimate either in the prison or on release. Khan’s behavior is in no way unique,” he added.
A number of other former prisoners have gone on to commit terror attacks in the UK.
Sudesh Amman, 20, killed two people last year after being freed on license, meaning he was still subject to some restrictions.
Khairi Saadallah, 26, a former Libyan soldier, murdered three men in Reading last year, after being imprisoned for non-terrorism-related offences. While in jail, he befriended an associate of renowned terrorist recruiter and idealogue Anjem Choudary.
The spate of attacks prompted heightened scrutiny of the way the UK managed its terrorist offenders while inside jails and in the months and years following their release.
Only five of nearly 200 people incarcerated for terrorism-related crimes in England and Wales are held in isolation units.
These “jails within a jail” were created to hold the most dangerous prisoners and stop them radicalizing vulnerable inmates.
The Ministry of Justice has insisted that separation units become counterproductive. Eilish O’Gara, a former counterterrorism analyst at Whitemoor and Long Lartin jails, where Khan had been a high-risk inmate, said three separation centers set up in high-security prisons had been largely “unused.”
Neil Basu, head of Britain’s counterterrorism police, said: “Many things have changed since (Usman Khan’s) attack.
“The government has made changes to the law, the Ministry of Justice has strengthened prison and probation services, and a far stronger offender management model is being implemented across the country.”