Tuesday 12 December 2017

Jihadi 'wanted to be terrorist' but was still allowed into UK

Two women comfort each other during a minute’s silence on London Bridge in honour of the terror attack victims. Photo: PA
Two women comfort each other during a minute’s silence on London Bridge in honour of the terror attack victims. Photo: PA

Ben Farmer and Nick Squires

One of the London Bridge attackers was allowed to enter Britain despite the security services being told he wanted to "be a terrorist".

Youseff Zaghba was placed an international "watch list" of suspected foreign fighters after the Italian police caught him trying to travel to Syria last year. The Italians claim both MI6 and MI5 were informed about Zaghba, who told police he was "going to be a terrorist" when he was stopped at Bologna airport.

But the 22-year-old Italian national was still able to enter the UK and went on to join Khuram Butt and Rachid Redouane in Saturday's van and knife rampage in central London.

As the row threatened to overshadow the final days of the general election, Theresa May was facing questions over the actions of the intelligence agencies and the Home Office at a time when she was home secretary.

During a campaign rally in Slough she announced plans to sidestep human rights laws to toughen controls on suspects by tightening limits on their internet use and increasing curfews.

Slip

Undated handout photos issued by the Metropolitan Police of (left to right) Khuram Shazad Butt, Rachid Redouane and Youssef Zaghba who have been named as the London Bridge terrorists. Photo: Metropolitan Police/PA
Undated handout photos issued by the Metropolitan Police of (left to right) Khuram Shazad Butt, Rachid Redouane and Youssef Zaghba who have been named as the London Bridge terrorists. Photo: Metropolitan Police/PA

But Boris Johnson, the British Foreign Secretary, said the public was entitled to wonder "how on earth" the security services allowed Butt to slip "through the net" after he appeared on a documentary entitled 'The Jihadis Next Door' yet was still deemed low risk.

Yesterday it emerged that Butt later received a caution for assault after attacking an anti-extremist scholar.

It also emerged that Redouane was refused asylum in Britain in 2009 but was able to stay until 2012 when he married his British wife and was able to remain in the UK.

In other developments:

  • Police suggested there may be an eighth victim of the attack, who was thrown into the Thames and has yet to be found;
  • The British authorities were criticised by their Spanish counterparts over the length of time it is taking to identify the victims;
  • Tales of heroism by police officers who chased the suspects away emerged;
  • Prime Minister Theresa May urged voters not to allow terrorism fears prevent them from voting on Thursday.

Scotland Yard named Zaghba as the third and final attacker, but reports from Italy immediately indicated that the security services knew of his attempts to travel to Syria in an apparent attempt to join Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

It was also disclosed last night that Butt, the attack ringleader, was arrested by police earlier this year after he attacked an Islamic scholar - but he was let off with a caution. He was reported to counter-terrorism officers following the incident but they concluded he did not pose a terrorist threat.

Libyan security sources also revealed that Redouane, had fought in the revolution against Muammar Gaddafi and joined a militia brigade that went on to send foreign fighters to Syria.

Zaghba, the son of an Italian mother and Moroccan father, was arrested at Bologna airport on March 15 last year carrying a one-way ticket to Istanbul and a small rucksack.

The Italians suspected he was on his way to Syria to volunteer as a foreign fighter with Isil or another terrorist group.

The police confiscated his passport and mobile phone, on which they found videos and images related to jihad, including the black Isil flag and a video clip of prisoners in orange jumpsuits being decapitated in a desert setting. When he was stopped and questioned, he reportedly told police officers: "I'm going to be a terrorist".

Zaghba's mother said her son had become radicalised while working in a Pakistani restaurant in London.

A court ruled there was not enough evidence to charge him with terrorist offences, but Italy's Internal Intelligence Service rpassed on details to the MI6 liaison officer in Italy, who relayed the information to MI5.

Giuseppe Amato, a prosecutor who dealt with the case, said: "His computer was confiscated, but according to the court, there was no evidence to suggest any crime had been committed and it was given back to him.

"He was flagged up to London as a possible suspect. In a year and a half he was in Italy for just 10 days and he was always followed by special operations police."

His name was also added by the police in Bologna to an EU security database. Britain signed up to the system two years ago, with the Home Office saying it would receive alerts on "suspected terrorists".

EU security sources said the system should have triggered an alert to border officials when Zaghba entered the UK. Scotland Yard said Zaghba had not been a police or MI5 "subject of interest" before the attack.

Irish Independent

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