LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson vowed to end the early release of convicted terrorists after an Islamist attacker stabbed two people days after he was set free half way through his prison term.
Sudesh Amman, jailed in 2018 for possession of terrorist documents and disseminating terrorist publications, was shot dead by police on Sunday after he went on the rampage with a stolen 10-inch (25 cm) knife on a busy London street.
Amman had previously praised the Islamic State group, shared an online al Qaeda magazine and encouraged his girlfriend to behead her parents.
Johnson said the government would announce fundamental changes in dealing with people convicted of terrorism offences, saying he had come “to the end of my patience” with freeing offenders before they had completed their sentences and without any scrutiny.
“I think the idea of automatic early release for people who obviously continue to pose a threat to the public has come to the end of its useful life,” he said in a speech.
“We do think it’s time to take action to ensure that people – irrespective of the law that we’re bringing in – people in the current stream do not qualify automatically for early release.”
The government has repeatedly promised tougher rules on terrorism since another former convict killed two people and wounded three more before police shot him dead near London Bridge in November.
Johnson said the instances of deradicalizing and rehabilitating Islamists was hard and the instances of success were few.
Sunday’s attacker, Amman, had recently been released from prison, according to police, having been jailed for promoting violent Islamist material.
He went on the rampage after strapping a fake bomb to his body. He stabbed two people, while a third suffered minor injuries caused by shattered glass when police opened fire.
Amman was under surveillance at the time by police, who shot him dead.
In November 2018 he pleaded guilty to possessing terrorist documents and disseminating terrorist publications, and the following month he was sentenced to more than three years in prison.
His mother, Haleema Faraz Khan, told Sky News that he was a “nice, polite boy” who was radicalized online and in prison. She said she had spoken to her son hours before the attack and he had seemed normal when she saw him days before.
“He became more religious inside prison, that’s where I think he became radicalized,” she said.
Britain has about 220 people in prison with terrorism convictions.
In 2016, Britain announced plans to isolate radical Islamists in special units in high security jails to limit their ability to influence other inmates amid concerns that prisons were breeding grounds for extremists.
But there have been warnings that the system is failing to address the problem and last month one inmate convicted of terrorism offences attacked prison officers.
Ian Acheson, who carried out a review of the management of Islamist extremists in jail, said the prison service did not have the appetite or aptitude to manage terrorist offenders.
“We may need to accept there are certain people who are so dangerous they must be kept in prison indefinitely,” he told BBC radio.
Mark Rowley, formerly Britain’s most senior counter-terrorism police officer who was in post when Amman was arrested, said dozens of other people convicted of terrorism offences were due to be released early under Britain’s sentencing guidelines.
“We have an issue about if you have about 200 or so inside, the question is how do you detain them?” Johnson said.
“Do you detain them en bloc as it were in one group and try and keep them together because that avoids them infecting or passing the virus of their beliefs to others in jails. Or do you disperse and try to stop them reinfecting each other?”
Amman was 17 and living at home with his family when he first began committing terrorism offences, according to authorities.
Police said he had downloaded material about making explosives and carrying out terrorist attacks.
Messages showed that he had discussed with his family, friends and girlfriend his extreme views and desire to carry out an attack, often focused on using a knife, prosecutors said. In one, he encouraged his girlfriend to behead her parents.
In December 2017, Amman posted a picture of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was killed in a U.S. raid in Syria in October, and told his brother in a message that “the Islamic State is here to stay”.
Islamic State claimed responsibility for Sunday’s attack although police said it was an isolated incident.
Additional reporting by Elizabeth Howcroft, and Omar Fahmy in Cairo; Editing by Giles Elgood