Two people—a man and a woman—have been fatally stabbed and three more injured in a knifing spree near London Bridge on Friday afternoon. The attack was carried out by a man wearing a fake explosive device, who has since been identified as Usman Khan, in what British police called a terrorist attack. Khan, 28, was shot and killed by police.
At approximately 13:58 (1:58 pm) GMT on Friday, London police were called to an incident at the northern end of London Bridge, at Fishmongers’ Hall, where a criminal justice conference was being held. Khan, wearing a fake suicide vest, threatened to blow up the hall. He then began stabbing people in the hall before moving outside and stabbing pedestrians on the bridge. Khan was restrained by members of the public, who fought back while waiting for the police to arrive. The police arrived shortly thereafter and surrounded Khan, firing multiple shots. Khan died at the scene.
Many have praised the bravery of the passers-by that intervened and held down Khan while waiting for the police to arrive. Footage circling around social media appears to show a man holding Khan down, and another man who intervened said they had been trying to disarm Khan. BBC reports that one man “ran through traffic and jumped the central partition to tackle the attacker with several others” and disarmed Khan. British Transport Police have said that the man seen taking the knife was a plain-clothes officer. “The courageous actions he took when faced with the horrors of this attack are remarkable,” said Chief Constable Paul Crowther. “He, as well as other members of the public, should be extremely proud of what they did to stop this man on London Bridge.”
At the time of writing, only one of the victims’ names has been released. Jack Merritt, 25, was a course coordinator at Learning Together, an organization that offered educational courses in over a dozen prisons, which organized the prison rehabilitation conference held in Fishmongers’ Hall that both Merritt and Khan were attending. Khan was a convicted terrorist with ties to Islamist terror groups, convicted in 2012 for plotting to bomb the London Stock Exchange and was released from prison last year with an ankle monitor after serving half of a 16-year prison sentence. Merritt’s father, David Merritt, paid tribute to his son, a University of Cambridge graduate, on Twitter. “My son, Jack, who was killed in this attack, would not wish his death to be used as the pretext for more draconian sentences or for detaining people unnecessarily,” he posted. “R.I.P. Jack: you were a beautiful spirit who always took the side of the underdog.”
David Merritt’s hope that his son’s death would not be used harsher and unjust sentencing appears to be in vain, as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is thrusting the attack to the forefront of the election battle. Johnson said on Saturday that those convicted of the most serious terrorist offences should never be released from prison, in addition to promising a series of hardline reforms that would include ending automatic early release for terrorist offences, a mandatory minimum 14-year sentence, and devising a system in which those convicted will be made to serve every day of the sentences handed down on them. The attack was quickly politicized, no doubt because of the upcoming December 12 election, when Priti Patel, the home secretary, clashed with Yvette Cooper of the Labour Party on Twitter.
Cooper had questioned how Khan could have been released, writing on Twitter that Khan was “thought to be so dangerous by judge he was given IPP sentence to prevent release if still serious threat. Instead he was released 6 yrs later without Parole Board assessment. How cd this be allowed to happen?” Patel responded by blaming the Labour Party, writing, “Because legislation brought in by your government in 2008 meant that dangerous terrorists had to automatically be released after half of their jail term.” Patel’s claims are, however, false. There are many types of sentencing that are available to the courts to ensure dangerous offenders were not automatically released. For Patel to claim that courts had no choice but to comply with the early release is a provable lie.
The attack at London Bridge Friday afternoon brought back memories of a similar terrorist attack in 2017 that occurred on the same bridge in which a total of 7 people were killed and 48 were wounded when a vehicle barreled into pedestrians. Now, the Prime Minister and his Cabinet are spreading lies about Britain’s criminal justice system and threatening to impose harsher, more draconian laws and punishments just to score cheap points out of people’s deaths, and all on a day in which campaigning had been suspended.