learnt that many of my past beliefs came from my misinterpretations of Islam,”
the young man wrote to his probation officers. “There were many gaps in my
knowledge but now I am on new path and am learning to become a good Muslim. I
would like a chance to prove to you that I will not cause harm to nobody in our
Friday, the man who wrote those words, 28-year-old Usman Khan, traveled
unsupervised from his probation hostel in England’s West Midlands to London,
where he carried out a deadly terrorist attack after having participated in a
conference on prison rehabilitation.
London Bridge terrorist Usman Khan
after the attack, questions remain about why he was allowed to travel by
himself to the conference and, more broadly, about Britain’s rehabilitation
system and the process of releasing convicted terrorists back into society.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that 74 people who had been jailed for
terrorism offenses and released early would have their license conditions
reviewed, and he vowed that serious offenders would no longer obtain early
with people familiar with Mr. Khan’s history — and copies of letters and
reports on his progress written by Mr. Khan and obtained from officials with
the government’s counterterrorism Prevent Program and the probation service —
show that the problems of rehabilitating radical jihadis are complex, and do
not always lend themselves to simple solutions like longer prison terms. The
officials spoke on the condition of anonymity, because investigations into the
attack are underway.
clearly engaged in a long-term effort to con the British authorities. Before
being released from jail last December, halfway through a 16-year sentence for
his involvement in a plot to bomb the London Stock Exchange, he took every
opportunity to convince his parole officer and the Home Office that he was a
he wrote letters from jail assuring officials that he no longer embraced
radical Islamic ideology and felt deep remorse about his membership in a
Qaeda-inspired cell that had planned to carry out attacks in Britain.
letter to the Home Office, dated Oct. 15, 2012, soon after his incarceration,
he requested placement in a deradicalisation course.
like to prove to the authorities, my family and society in general that I don’t
carry the views I had before my arrest,” he wrote, “and also I can prove that
at the time I was immature and now I am much more mature and want to live my
life as a good Muslim and also a good citizen of Britain.”
year, he was enrolled in the Healthy Identity Intervention Program, the
government’s main vehicle for dealing with people convicted of offenses linked
to terrorism. While enrolled in that course, he wrote long reports about his
putative progress and repeatedly asked for a chance to prove that he was no
longer a threat.
service official familiar with Mr. Khan’s case said that he carried out an
elaborate deception of all the agencies that had been monitoring him. The
official insisted that nothing in his behavior suggested he would do anything
improper, let alone the terrible attack he pulled off.
attack, Mr. Khan was under active surveillance by the MI5 domestic intelligence
agency, which had set his level of threat to the public as “low to medium.” He
had the highest level of security measures applied to his parole, according to
an internal probation report. The probation official said that Mr. Khan would
have to have shown significant progress to be allowed to attend the conference.
displayed those feigned signs of progress on the morning of the conference,
when he spoke about his rehabilitation efforts — a “compelling success story,”
as one conference participant described it.
a break in the conference program, the BBC reported, Mr. Khan disappeared into
a bathroom and re-emerged wearing a fake suicide vest with two large knives
taped to his hands — it is unclear how he got the weapons into the building.
He then set
off on a rampage across the grand Fishmongers’ Hall venue, where he killed two
recent Cambridge University graduates who were attending the conference and
injured three other people before being tackled down by members of the public,
including other rehabilitated offenders attending the conference, and shot dead
by the police.
case demonstrates the difficult challenge of distinguishing impostors from
those who have truly had a change of heart and mind. The Prevent official, a
former extremist himself, was shocked to learn that Mr. Khan had been allowed
to travel to London alone.
He said the
extremists who plan the attacks are master manipulators who learn the tricks of
the game in prison. They have to be watched constantly, he said, until you have
absolute proof that they have changed.
path to radicalization started at the age of 14, when he became active in
Britain’s homegrown extremist network, Al Muhajiroun, regularly participating
in their provocative public preaching events and demonstrations.
At 16, he
became a student of Anjem Choudary, a radical Muslim preacher who this year was
released from a probation hostel to home arrest after serving time in prison
for inciting support fort the Islamic State.
Al Muhajiroun members abide by a “covenant of security” that forbids attacks on
non-Muslims in members’ country of residence, some senior activists maintain
that individuals have a choice whether to accept it. Mr. Khan clearly did not.
In 2010, at
19, Mr. Khan came to the attention of the security services after joining a
group of eight extremists inspired by Al Qaeda and started discussing plans to
carry out bomb attacks across British cities and build training facilities for
militants. He was convicted of terrorism offenses in 2012 and served eight
years in prison.
release, Mr. Khan had been living in a probation hostel in Staffordshire, a
county known for its quaint villages and historic market towns.
required to wear an electronic ankle bracelet that allowed the police to track
his movements, the probation service official said. Restrictions were applied
to his phone and internet usage, he was barred from meeting associates and was
required to meet with a probation officer at least twice a week.
probation official declined to comment on the assessment that allowed Mr. Khan
to travel unaccompanied to London last Friday, saying that it was under
investigation. But he reiterated that Mr. Khan had shown no signs that aroused
suspicion or concern.
was also placed in the government’s secretive Desistance and Disengagement
Program, which was introduced in 2016 as a more holistic approach to
rehabilitation, with support that includes mentoring, psychological
counselling, and theological and ideological advice.
approach has been applied to British Jihadi fighters returning from Syria and
Iraq. Experts say it is too soon to say whether its methods have been
effective, though Mr. Khan hardly provides a basis for optimism.
official said that deradicalisation required time, patience and expert
counselling to understand the extremists’ narrative, background and state of
mind, and then to convince them of the flaws in their thinking.
“It is much
easier to deceive people when you do not fear death,” the official said. “I’m
sure Usman was genuinely in good spirits when he left the hostel and traveled
to London, because in his world he was about to be set free as a martyr.”
Headline: Portrait of London Bridge Killer, in His Own Words
Source: The New York Times