Douglas Murray

The questions no one wants to ask about the Reading terror attack

The questions no one wants to ask about the Reading terror attack
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There is an awful lot going on at the moment. So much, indeed, that stories that might once have detained us now rush past unobserved and all but un-commented upon. One such story is the conviction and sentencing of Khairi Saadallah for the murders of James Furlong, David Wails and Joseph Ritchie-Bennett on 20 June last year.

Some readers may recall that I wrote about that attack here at the time. The UK had just been through its first lockdown, so it was understandable if people were somewhat preoccupied. Yet still it seemed significant that three men, all identified by the UK media as ‘members of the LGBTQ community’, should have been stabbed to death while enjoying the sun in a park in Reading one un-locked down evening. 

It seemed even more significant that the attacker should have been identified as a migrant from Libya who had been on the radar of the security services. And still more so that the attacker was reported to have been shouting something while carrying out his lethal attack. In general, when the media says that an assailant might have been shouting something but don’t tell you what it is, you can take a wild guess.

Sure enough, at the trial it transpired that the words Saadallah had been shouting were not ‘unintelligible’ as was reported at any early stage, but were the words ‘Allahu Akbar’ or ‘Allah is greatest’. During the attack, Saadallah also shouted in Arabic ‘Allah accept my Jihad’, which it’s true might baffle your average passer-by. But the rest of the details of the attack that came out in the trial weren’t baffling at all. 

During his time in Libya, Saadallah had been involved in military training and in fighting, which is perhaps how he was able to dispatch his victims so efficiently on a warm summer night on another continent. 

In remarks to the police after the attack, Saadallah boasted about the ‘jihad’ that he had just done in Reading, described the victims as ‘wrong-uns who deserved it’, boasted that he would go to paradise for what he had done and further boasted of his killing of one of the men, ‘I stabbed him in the neck and it came out the back of his head’. Speaking to the police Saadallah said, ‘I did it to the right people.’

Last June, I said that if Saadallah had any history of mental illness then it would doubtless be looked into. As it happens, experts at his trial testified that in fact Saadallah had learned how to ‘feign’ mental illness, but that he was not mentally ill during the attack and knew that his premeditated attack ‘was wrong’. 

I also wrote last year that I was confident that if there was any drug-use angle then that would be looked into. Sure enough, experts at Saadallah’s trial said that short-lived earlier problems in his life were to be attributable to drug use, but that this was not a factor in the 2020 killings. 

Finally, I stated with confidence that if the whole ‘Allahu Akbar’/asylum-seeker-from-Libya aspects of Saadallah were proved then they would not be looked into at all.

In response to this, the legacy gay press (such as it is) did a ‘how very dare you’. The fact that only a couple of days after the Reading attack Pink News had little coverage of the Reading attacks but three great big stories about J.K. Rowling’s rampant ‘transphobia’ seemed typical. The silence from other usual loud organs was equally striking. But perhaps that shouldn’t be surprising. If the gay press finds the killing of gay men by a Libyan asylum seeker too awkward to write about it isn’t clear how keen the rest of the media is going to be to write up the story.

Campaigners and lobby groups, who would have been all over this had it been a far-right extremist, this time found a new primness. They claimed (encouraged by a number of online legal experts) that the killings had only just happened and that it would be quite wrong to speculate on motives. Didn’t I know, they asked, that nobody in Britain ever speculates on anything until the trial is over and done with? But once it is they really go for it.

Well now Saadallah’s trial and sentencing are over and still I can’t find any willingness to do any of the much-promised thinking about this. True, we have found out a lot more about Saadallah over the course of his trial. 

We found out about the fact that he trained and fought in Libya with an outlawed Islamist militia, that he was refused asylum in the UK, that in spite of a spate of criminal convictions he was not removed from the UK because of a string of ‘legal barriers’, and that he once served a prison sentence alongside the notorious extremist Omar Brooks (Abu Izzadeen). There’s a fair amount to chew on just there. But, still, nobody seems to want to do the chewing.

The report by ITV News is perhaps unintentionally suggestive. They mention the whole ‘Allahu Akbar’ thing at the top of their news story, as any report should. But straight away they add the detail: ‘As he [Saadallah] was detained, a Muslim member of the public told him: 'You have nothing to do with Islam, b******,' adding 'I am just livid'.’ What is interesting about this is not just that people in the vicinity of the attack clearly knew about the Allah aspect from the earliest stages, but that ITV News knows that if you are going to report a story like this you have to give it a layer of careful editorialising.

For their part, Pink News has found time to notice the verdict by running with a piece headlined ‘Boris Johnson urged to make sure there’s never a repeat of Reading terror attack that claimed three gay men’s lives.’ Which makes it sound as though Boris Johnson has some culpability for the attack. The former publication continues:

Following the sentencing, Paul Britt, the chair of Reading Pride appealed to the prime minister to coordinate with local organisations to make sure this horrifying act of violence is never repeated.

'With the tragic loss of life, the sentencing may help provide closure to help start the healing process within our community,' he told reporters for Berkshire Live.'

'We continue to urge the prime minister, central and local government along with support organisations to work together and implement future safeguards to help prevent this from happening again.'

It’s hard to argue with that. Everyone’s in favour of ‘support’, ‘working together’ and ‘implementing future safeguards to help prevent this from happening again.’ But what does that actually mean? 

To reiterate a point I made last year, if the killer in Reading had been driven by some white, nativist, far-right ideology then it seems likely that people would have focused on the fact by now. They’d be asking what swamps he had been swimming in, what wells he had drunk from. But because Saadallah does not appear to be a white nationalist, that line of inquiry appears to be closed.

But let me pick up on the suggestion that the chair of ‘Reading Pride’ makes about future safeguards. Let’s not waffle here. How about somebody finds out why Saadallah was in this country in the first place? How about finding out why he was able to carry out a string of criminal offences and still not get deported? How about finding out which lawyers and law firms put those ‘legal barriers’ in place to stop him getting deported? Or which politicians and civil servants decided to put Saadallah’s case on the back-burner as just another knotty asylum case that could be put off for another day like so many others?

Since June we have seen a trial, conviction and sentencing. But the questions around what lead to this terror attack remain not only stubbornly un-answered. They remain worryingly un-asked.