GP Insights

GP Insights # 196, 30 November 2019

London attacks: A reality check on radicalisation
Sourina Bej

What happened? 
The UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has condemned the early release of criminals in the country after it emerged that the man who carried out the latest London Bridge terror attack on 29 November was a convict who had been freed from prison on an electronic tag. Two have been murdered and at least three seriously injured when the convict identified as Usman Khan, wearing a fake suicide vest, attacked the passer-by at a criminal justice seminar he was attending at Fishmonger’s Hall. The 28-year-old attacker from Staffordshire was believed to be a lone attacker. The incident began just before 2 pm when the attacker began stabbing fellow delegates with two large knives after taking part in various workshops in which he described his experiences as a prisoner.

What is the background? 
According to the police statement, the attacker was released from prison on parole in December 2018. Khan was among the nine convicted in 2012 for offences ranging from plotting to bomb the London Stock Exchange to planning a terrorist training camp. Even though the attacker originally received an indeterminate sentence, it was changed on appeal in 2013 to 16 years. Condemning this reduction in jail time has been one of Boris Johnson’s clear election stands.    

What does it mean? 
The attack on London Bridge brings forth three distinctive trends. 

Firstly, the murders and the stabbing have coincided with one important election underway. The 29 November attack bears visible similarities to the outrage at Borough Market on 3 June 2017, five days before that year’s general election. The eight people murdered were also carried out by an ISIL-inspired cell of three attackers who used fake suicide vests just like Usman Khan. The attackers in the 2017 case had also used stabbing as the tool to attack the passer-by before being shot dead by police. And prior to 2017, the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox took place in almost similar fashion in the run-up to the 2016 EU referendum vote. With crucial election underway and Britain choosing their leader after two years and a say on Brexit, a similar kind of attack could indicate a symbolic gesture being made by unrepresented voices: the non-British migrant populace.  

Secondly, Boris Johnson by condemning the reduction in jail time and most importantly, the attack has laid in the open a faulty and understaffed system. A quick fix in the form of toughening jail sentences is not difficult to bring out, but it will not be the answer to a problem that arises out of a justice delivery system. Khan has served time in prison and was released on licence at a time when the Ministry of Justice budget was slashed by 40 per cent. The impacts of these budget cuts have been inmates spending up to 23 hours a day in the cells of understaffed and overcrowded prisons. Thereby monitoring by the police forces, regular notice and sessions with the convicts have suffered equally. A reality remains and not answered under the Bridge attack is that regular work should have been taking place to rehabilitate Khan. The MoJ says he was enrolled on counter-radicalisation initiatives, but his solicitor said none of these programmes tackled the underlying ideology and Khan ended up writing to organisations outside the prison requesting help. 

Lastly, the London Bridge attack two weeks before the election on 12 December has shifted the election rhetoric from the issue of Brexit, health care and climate change to combating terror cells at home. Narratives of heroism in the face of terror have played out frequently in the mind of the people, media and also reiterated by the political leaders like Boris Johnson and Corbyn who now speaks on “Britain will not be cowed” by the incident. However, a larger question to be answered is where Britain should start in dealing with the matter of radical youth? It should start by looking inwards with a communicative rather than deliverable justice system. 

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