Libyan asylum seeker currently in custody in relation to the knife rampage in a British park that killed three people was known to the MI5 intelligence service, UK media reports said on Monday.
Khairi Saadallah, 25, has been arrested under the UK’s Terrorism Act after the deadly incident in a busy park in the southern English city of Reading on Saturday evening was declared a terrorist attack by counter-terror officials.
It has now emerged that the refugee, who arrived in Britain from war-torn Libya in 2012, had been on the radar of security spies as they monitored him for suspected extremist activities.
Security sources told the BBC that the suspect came to the attention of the security services in 2019 after they received information he had aspirations to travel abroad – potentially for terrorism.
“When the information was further investigated, as the first stage of looking into a potential lead, no genuine threat or immediate risk was identified. No case file was opened which would have made him a target for further investigation,” the sources were quoted as saying.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has held discussions with security officials following the attack, said that “if there are lessons that we need to learn about how we handle such cases, how we handle the events leading up to such cases then we will learn those lessons”.
Opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer has said that “people are united in their grief” following the attack, and that he wants to speak to the prime minister to discuss how to “learn from this”.
UK Home Secretary Priti Patel is expected to update MPs in relation to the terror attack in the House of Commons later on Monday.
Two of the three victims of the terror attack have been identified as 36-year-old school teacher James Furlong and 39-year-old Joe Ritchie-Bennett, an American citizen living in the UK.
“I offer my deepest condolences to the families of those killed. To our great sorrow, this includes an American citizen. Our thoughts are with all those affected,” US ambassador to the UK Woody Johnson said in a statement.
James Furlong taught history, government and politics at The Holt School in Wokingham, eight miles from where he was stabbed in Reading, Berkshire.
“He was the best son, brother, uncle and partner you could wish for. We are thankful for the memories he gave us all. We will never forget him and he will live in our hearts forever,” Furlong’s parents said in a statement.
A minute’s silence was observed in Reading in memory of those killed in the attack on Monday morning. Former pupils and current students of secondary school teacher Furlong are also planning to light candles and lay flowers at a church near the school later.
Saadallah is from Reading and was arrested initially on suspicion of murder before being re-arrested on Sunday under Section 41 of the Terrorism Act 2000. Under the Act, police have the power to detain him without charge for up to 14 days.