Rakib Ehsan

What lessons can we learn from the case of Khairi Saadallah?

What lessons can we learn from the case of Khairi Saadallah?
Police officers search Forbury Gardens in Reading, where the terror attack took place (Getty images)
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Khairi Saadallah is a name that should not be forgotten in a hurry. Found guilty of the murders of James Furlong, David Wails, and Joe Ritchie-Bennett, Saadallah was yesterday given a whole-life jail term for the June 2020 terrorist attack in Reading’s Forbury Gardens. He will never leave prison. We shouldn't, though, remember Saadallah's name because of his crimes, but in order to learn lessons from the catalogue of blunders that left him free to kill.

While the whole-life prison sentence handed is welcome, the case of Khairi Saadallah represents a fundamental failure of epic proportions in the British justice system. Saadallah was previously convicted for a string of knife-related offences and racially-aggravated assault. In October 2019, Saadallah was imprisoned for a collection of non-terror offences (his sentence was subsequently reduced at the Court of Appeal). 

While at HMP Bullingdon, Saadallah was observed by a prison officer to be 'keen to talk to and associate with' fellow inmate Omar Brooks (otherwise known as Abu Izzadeen), a radical preacher associated with the proscribed organisation Al-Muhajiroun. A fellow inmate, Anthony Bloomfield, said that Saadallah discussed 'jihad' and spoke of his desire to 'rape Britain'. The warning signs were not hard to spot.

The day before he was released from this spell behind bars, Saadallah was told that the Home Secretary 'has decided that your deportation is conducive to the public good'. But Saadallah, who was originally from Tripoli and came to the UK in 2012 having fought in the Libyan revolution as a teenager, could not be deported because of the situation in his home country.

A few weeks after his release from prison, Saadallah carried out his Islamist-inspired terror in which he knifed three innocent men to death in an English market town.

In its response to the terror threat, the UK clearly has a great deal to learn. After all, while the details of Saadallah's case are horrifying, his is not an isolated story. Around 100 foreign-nationals have been convicted of Islamist-related terror offences in the UK since 1998, according to a new report by the Henry Jackson Society (HJS). What is especially worrying is that this list includes multiple individuals with known links to proscribed organisations such as Islamic State, Al-Qaeda, and Al-Muhajiroun.

Hopefully, Brexit will give an opportunity for Britain to tighten its borders and prevent a repeat of what unfolded on that warm summer's evening in Reading last June. An integral part of the post-Brexit project needs to be the creation of stricter border security arrangement through new laws. All too often, concerns about human rights hamper attempts to deport dangerous offenders like Saadallah to their country of origin. This can no longer be allowed to happen.

Here, the European Convention of Human Rights offers some assistance. Its Article 8[2] states that public authorities can interfere in the exercise of the rights enshrined in Article 8(1) on the grounds that it is 'necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety… for the prevention of disorder or crime…'. Britain must not be shy about pointing to this clause when it seeks to remove those who are a danger to people in this country.

Following the case of Khairi Saadallah, Britain should also introduce legislation which makes racially- and religiously-aggravated crimes an automatically deportable offence for foreign nationals, irrespective of the length of imprisonment. This is essential for strengthening public safety in the UK’s multi-racial and religiously-diverse liberal democracy.

But there is also a much broader lesson here. Politicians must realise that the failed integration of some of those from conflict-ridden countries like Libya carries potentially devastating consequences for British society. The UK has historically over-estimated the willingness of some to integrate into liberal democratic culture, and under-estimated the threat of extremist-minded 'counter-societies' developing within its own territory. The unfortunate reality of the matter is that the UK’s altruistic tendencies and misplaced idealism have been taken advantage of by those who wish to wreak havoc from within. Identifying the most problematic aspects of the UK’s asylum procedures, from a national security and social cohesion perspective, is critical.

It is time for ministers to close the gap between rhetoric and reality when it comes to tightening the UK’s porous borders and protecting law-abiding Brits. We owe it to the families of James Furlong, David Wails, and Joe Ritchie-Bennett to learn from the mistakes that allowed the man who killed them to walk free from prison last year.

Dr Rakib Ehsan is a research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society