An alleged terrorist once again managed to slip through the cracks, even though he had been reported to the police and had appeared in an ISIS documentary alongside known extremists.
On June 3, three suspects plowed a van into the crowded London Bridge and stabbed many people at the nearby Borough Market, killing seven and injuring dozens of others. Police officers were able to kill the attackers on the scene, all of whom have now been identified.
Police named the first suspect as Khuram Shazad Butt, a 27-year-old Pakistani-born British citizen; the second as Rachid Redouane, a 30-year-old hailing from Morocco and Libya; and the third as Youssef Zaghba, 22, an Italian national of Moroccan descent living in London.
It seems Butt had a history with the British authorities. Police reported the suspect was on MI5’s watchlist and had been investigated prior to the incident. However, they claimed there was no evidence suggesting he was preparing to carry out an attack.
Butt first gained attention when he was featured in Channel 4’s “The Jihadis Next Door” — a documentary investigating fundamentalist Muslims in Britain — kneeling in front of the black ISIS flag in 2016.
He appeared alongside members of an Islamist group called al-Muhajiroun, which supported al-Qaida. Mohammed Shamsuddin, one of the ringleaders of the group, proudly announced in the documentary the black ISIS flag would one day fly over 10 Downing Street, the residence of the British prime minister.
Shamsuddin was a disciple of hate preacher Omar Bakri, also known as the Tottenham Ayatollah, who is now in jail for supporting terrorism. He has been accused of sending men out to Syria and was said to have influenced the murderers of drummer Lee Rigby.
Butt was also pictured with Abu Haleema, who was accused of radicalizing a British boy convicted over a plot to decapitate police officers in Australia during an Anzac Day parade.
What’s even more damning is the fact that many people had reported Butt’s extreme behavior, but the authorities had failed to take notice.
One woman in the area had informed the police she was scared Butt was trying to radicalize her children, according to the BBC.
A friend of the suspect had also called the anti-terrorism hotline because he caught Butt watching hate videos on YouTube and saw him trying to bribe children to listen to his extreme rhetoric by offering them candies.
“We spoke about a particular attack that happened and like most radicals he had a justification for anything — everything and anything,” the unnamed man said. “And that day I realized that I need to contact the authorities.”
“I phoned the anti-terror hotline. I spoke to the gentleman. I told him about our conversation and why I think he was radicalized,” he added. “I did my bit, I know other people did their bit but the authorities did not do their bit.”
However, his efforts were all in vain.
“They didn’t get back to me. Nor was he arrested or you know, just picked up for any kind of questioning,” he said. “The Muslim community gets a lot of criticism over how we don’t root out extremism in our community. I did my bit. I know a lot of people did but the authorities didn’t do their bit and that’s what’s shocking.”
Moreover, as an adult, Butt was kicked out from his mosque, Jabin Bin Zayd Islamic Center, for interrupting the imam and saying voting in the 2015 elections was “un-Islamic,” the Independent reported.
“Many hundreds of people pray at the Jabir Bin Zayid each week, the person that we now know to be Khurram Butt would infrequently attend this mosque, we did not know him well, his name was not known to us, it has been brought to our attention that some years ago after interrupting a Friday sermon he was asked to leave the mosque,” representatives of the Jabir Bin Zayid Islamic Centre in Barking said on their website.
It has also emerged that Butt had tried to go to Syria to “fight jihad” but had been talked out by his family members, as his wife was pregnant at the time.
According to the Metropolitan Police, they currently have 500 ongoing terrorism investigations involving 3,000 persons of interest.
“A small number of the highest priority investigations involve current attack planning, and these investigations command a significant proportion of our resource,” the police added.
Their stance does not justify the lack of action on their part, as their timely interference could have prevented the deadly attacks.
A mere two weeks ago, a suicide bomber attacked an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, killing 22 people and injuring 59 others — and the behavior of the culprit, Salman Abedi, seemed to echo that of Khuram Butt. Abedi was also radicalized, was kicked out from his mosque after he disrupted a sermon during which the imam denounced terrorism — and he was reported by multiple people, including friends from college and even his own mother.
One cannot simply excuse the behavior of these individuals as “free speech” nor justify the reticence of the law enforcement officers as “religious tolerance.”
It seems both tragedies could have been averted if the authorities in England were a bit more vigilant. In light of these events, the lack of interest by law enforcement agencies is painfully obvious.
In wake of the attacks, British Prime Minister Theresa May declared “enough is enough” and announced plans to introduce anti-terrorism laws. She has also called for a crackdown on the internet space “to prevent the spread of extremism and terrorism planning” and ordered police cuts.
However as Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn pointed out, “You cannot protect the public on the cheap. The police and security services must get the resources they need, not 20,000 police cuts. Theresa May was warned by the Police Federation but she accused them of ‘crying wolf.’”
In this case, London Mayor Sadiq Khan has it right when he urged police and security services to explain why they failed to act on the dire warnings when it comes to terrorists’ behavior.
“What we need to do is make sure that we ask these questions and the police and the security services respond and answer the legitimate questions we all have.”
Banner/thumbnail credit: Reuters