The three men who carried out the attacks on London Bridge and Borough Market have been named. They are Youssef Zaghba (above left), Khuram Butt (above centre), and Rachid Redouane (above right). The Metropolitan Police (MET) had only confirmed the names of Butt and Redouane before Zaghba was named by Italian media, who say he was born in Morocco and has Italian citizenship. He was stopped by police in Bologna, Italy last year on his way to Syria. His movements were reported to the British security services, but he couldn’t be deported because of his Italian citizenship.
Khuram Butt (right) was 27. He was born in Pakistan, but became a British citizen. He was married with two children, was an Arsenal football club fan and last year was working for London Underground as a trainee customer services assistant. He was also at some point the director o a now-dissolved company called Kool Kosmetics. In 2012 he was said to be working for a company that manages Kentucky Fried Chicken outlets. It is unclear when he became radicalised, but evidence suggests it could have been around 2012 onwards. He appeared in a C4 documentary on extremism, “The Judas Next Door,” which was broadcast last year. The documentary is about the al-Muhajiroun network (ALM) in the UK and one its followers Siddhartha Dhar, who was the right-hand man of Anjem Choudary. In the documentary Butt is shown with a group of other men arguing with a police officer who was called to reports that the group were flying an “Isis-like” flag in London’s Regent’s Park.
Mohammed Shafiq of the Manchester-based Ramadhan Foundation, an anti-extremism group, spoke of Butt and how he verbally assaulted him in 2013, the day after the murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby in London by Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, who were supporters of al-Muhajiroun.
“Khuram Butt called me a ‘Murtad’, which means traitor in Arabic, and accused me of being a government stooge when I confronted Anjem Choudary about him supporting terrorism.
“The police turned up and Anjem, Khuram Butt and two other men were escorted away. I am not surprised that Khuram Butt carried out the terrorist attack and there are serious questions for the authorities.”
Yet again it seems that Butt was already on the radar of MI5 and police. He had been reported to the police for trying to radicalise the children of Erica Gasparri, a neighbour. She went to the police in Barking about eighteen months ago with a photo of him and explained the situation to the police. Another unidentified man said he had concerns about Butt after he criticised the way women were dressing while working on London Underground and for his apparent support for an online advocate for the Syrian jihad. The man reported him to the anti-terror hotline.
Butt was also asked to leave the Jabir Bin Zayid Mosque after interrupting an imam. MI5 say they became aware of him in the summer of 2015 but there was no intelligence linking him to any plot. An investigation was begun into his behaviour following the concerns raised about him, but he became just one of 500 active investigations on the go at any one time. There was at least one more call about his behaviour after the MI5 began looking into him, but again this led to no intelligence that he was up to anything of immediate concern. He was not considered a priority and he was, in the words of the MET’s assistant commissioner Mark Rowley (below), “prioritised in the lower echelons of our investigative work.”. That simply means less time and resources would be spent on investigating him, let alone monitoring him. As is proving the case with the Manchester Arena bomber Salmen Abedi, MI5 will have to re-examine what they knew, when they knew it, and whether they missed any crucial intelligence that would have pointed to Butt being a threat. Mr Rowley added of MI5 being aware of Butt: “I have seen nothing yet that a poor decision was made.”
MI5, however, has a lot of explaining to do. Butt being on the radar of MI5 means that he, Khalid Masood, the Westminster Bridge attacker who killed 5 people, and Salman Abedi, who bombed the Manchester Arena in May killing 22 people were all known to the security services before they carried out their attacks. The Prime Minister Theresa May wouldn’t comment as the investigation was ongoing, but her Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson wasn’t so reluctant to talk. He told Sky News:
“People are going to look at the front pages today and they’re going to say ‘how on earth could we have let this guy or possibly more through the net? What happened, how could he possibly be on a Channel 4 programme and be committing atrocities like this?’ That is a question that will need to be answered by MI5, by the police, as the investigation goes on.”
Labour’s shadow Justice Secrertary Richard Burgon said:
“Questions need to be asked. No matter who is in government it is always the case that sometimes an extremist, a terrorist, a murderer may get through.”
He added that “we need to properly fund our police service and fund our security and intelligence services,” and said that the real worrying thing was that members of the public had warned of the terrorists behaviour and Butt had appeared in a documentary on extremists. London Mayor Sadiq Khan added to the criticism of lack of funding when he warned that Londoners faced “more danger” if the proposed government cuts to police numbers went ahead. The capital could lose up to 12,000 officers. He said:
“The MET police service has lost over the last seven years £600m.
“As brilliant as they are, that’s a big big cut. Over the next four years the current Conservative government has plans to cut a further £400m and on top of that they are changing the police funding formula, which means we could lose a further £700m. That’s £1.7bn.
“We’ve worked out that if they carry through with their plans we could be losing between 3,000 and 12,000 additional officers. That’s not sustainable.
“ There’s no doubt fewer police officers means we are in more danger.”
Robert Quick, a former counter-terrorism chief in the UK, added to the debate over funding. He told The Guardian:
“Counter-terrorism funding is ringfenced but cuts to the general policing budget has impacted on neighbourhood policing teams in many parts of the country including London.
“This has reduced the capacity of the police to work in communities building relationships and trust to in turn generate community-based intelligence about persons of concern.”
A retired police officer, Paul Herdman, who served 30 years – the last few as a Police Federation representative – has given an interview to The Guardian in which he talks of how the “police service is in crisis.” He said that the Police Federation were raising concerns about police funding for years and were consistently ignored by Theresa May in her long stint as Home Secretary, who is responsible for the police service. He said that the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has repeatedly brought up the danger to security of reducing police numbers but his warnings fell on deaf ears.
He highlights the loss of 20,000 officers in the last seven years, with the Conservatives planning even more cuts. Following the Manchester attack the Federation highlighted the dangers of the cuts. Mr Herdman warns that such cuts cannot be sustained and will have consequences, potentially serious:
“Why would anyone, let alone the government of the day, gamble with the safety of men, women and children of this country?”
He said that the cutting of back-room civilian support staff puts more pressure on the front-line officers who have to compensate for their loss by doing their work. Mr Herdman was scathing and dismissive of repeated promises on policing, crime and defence from those who don’t know the realities of policing:
“As police officers, we run toward danger while others run from it. It’s in the job description. The same is true of ambulance and fire crews, who I’ve watched get injured by aggressive patients and still rush to help, or have bricks lobbed at them as they put out fires. It hurts – but not as much as being abandoned by our own government. If serving officers had a penny for every made-up lecture on policing, crime, and defence from armchair experts, we might have the £40,000 a year that Amber Rudd appears to believe we do.”
He praised the first responders who attended Saturday’s London attacks but argued that the use of the army on the streets after the Manchester bombing was a “sign of weakness, not strength,” and that Theresa May was reliant on a costly scheme that is only necessary because she has stripped policing to the bone.”
He rightly says that the country needs more than a skeleton police service to keep Britain safe: “It’s having the local links, and hard-won public trust which helps us work with communities to spot problems like potential extremism or gang crime early on. This is exactly what neighbourhood policing was designed to do before it was hampered by cuts.” He continues:
”It is being a helping hand to vulnerable people, and deterring potential offenders before the blunt instrument of our (overstretched) prison system has to be used. It’s listening and responding to what every community wants out of their police. A modern, effective service requires resources and care. Security policy requires more than tough talk backed up by no real action – which is what we see from the Conservatives.
”Labour, at least, pledges action rather than talk – 10,000 new police officers, alongside new firefighters, prison officers and NHS staff on decent pay, and a commitment to maintain defence spending.
”If we are to keep our streets safe and maintain the ability to intercept and respond to serious incidents, the service needs care and investment, not more cuts.”
Sources & Further Reading:
- London attacker: Khuram Butt showed his extremist colours – bbc.co.uk/news – 6 June 2017 – by Dominic Casciani, Home Affairs Corresondent
- Police search address in Ilford as security services face scrutiny – theguardian.com – 6 June 2017 – by Robert Booth and Vikram Dod
- Police officers run towards danger. Tory cuts have left forces feeling abandoned – theguardian.com – 6 June 2017 – by Paul Herdman, a police officer for 30 years