Family had reported London Bridge attacker to police, inquest hears | UK news
The family of one of the London Bridge attackers became so concerned about his extremism they reported him to police 18 months before the atrocity, an inquest has heard.
Khuram Butt and two other terrorists killed eight people on 3 June 2017, first driving a hired van into two pedestrians before stabbing another six people to death.
The inquest into the deaths heard from acting DCI Wayne Jolley of Scotland Yard’s counter-terrorism command that Butt was an acolyte of the extremist preacher Anjem Choudary and was “energised” and like a “lion out of a cage” in his company. Choudary was jailed for encouraging support for Isis and is linked of scores of people who went on to carry out terrorist acts.
Jolley said the police investigation had shown that Butt’s views and religious adherence were unremarkable until about 2013. He had been described as a shy and earnest student who liked reggae music, smoked cannabis, supported Arsenal and whose sister once described him as a “party animal”.
The inquest sitting at the Old Bailey in central London heard he started to become more orthodox, then extreme, before expressing support for Islamic State.
Jolley told the inquest that Butt’s brother-in-law Usman Darr had to be physically separated from him in September 2015 after becoming enraged when Butt defended Isis for burning to death a captured Jordanian pilot, which was filmed and released as a propaganda video.
Jolley said Darr, a brother of Butt’s wife, Zara, called the authorities. “He was extremely concerned about these views and he contacted the anti-terrorist hotline to report his brother-in-law.”
The inquest heard Butt’s wife rejected his request to take a second wife and his family and friends became increasingly concerned from 2013 onwards as he immersed himself in extremist material and watched beheading videos. In early 2015, he had wanted to go to Syria but was stopped by his family, who destroyed his passport.
Butt, 27, carried out the attack on London Bridge with Rachid Redouane, 30, and Youssef Zaghba, 22.
The inquest heard the attackers went to the Unmah fitness centre in east London and were regulars at swimming sessions. Butt and Zaghba also taught children as young as seven about the Quran at an Islamic primary school.
Butt, the ringleader of the attack, hired the van used in the attack for £70 and was given an extension by the hire company after he complained about their service.
In the run up to the attack, Butt was carrying out various frauds, the inquest heard, and also got a job on London Underground carrying out security checks despite appearing in The Jihadis Next Door, a Channel 4 television documentary about Islamist extremism.
Butt passed vetting for the London Underground job in May 2016 and his role included security duties at sensitive stations such as Westminster, said Jonathan Hough QC, counsel to the inquest.
Butt told a work colleague the terrorist murder of Lee Rigby in May 2013 was “an eye for an eye”, the inquest heard.
Butt left the London Underground job after going off sick, claiming work-issue shoes caused him pain.
A key issue for the inquest will be examining whether police and the security service MI5 could and should have done more to spot the danger Butt posed. He faced a police counter-terrorism investigation from 2015 to 2017, but no charges followed, and he was under active investigation by MI5 at the time of the attack.
Zaghba, the inquest heard, was stopped in Italy over a year before the attack when trying to fly via Turkey to join Isis and made an amazing admission.
Jolley said while waiting to board a flight at Bologna airport on 15 March 2016, to Istanbul, Zaghba was interviewed: “He was asked by a border officer ‘what are you going to do in Istanbul’? Zaghba replied ‘be a terrorist’. He quickly corrected himself to say ‘be a tourist’.”
Jolley confirmed Zaghba entered the UK and there was never any British inquiry into him. The inquest will later here evidence about that omission.
The inquest also heard that a victim of the London Bridge attack was hit with such force by the van that plastic from the vehicle “melted” on impact.
Louissa Marsh, a forensic scientist, said Xavier Thomas, 45, was probably hit by the van and tossed into the River Thames as he walked across the bridge, while talking to his son on the phone.
An effect called “fibre plastic fusion” showed the white Renault van hired by the three terrorists struck the French national’s blue denim jeans, she said. Plastic from the vehicle melted on impact then “resolidified”, leaving small plastic deposits on the fibres of the jeans. Examination of the deposits showed they probably came from the headlights.
Marsh told the inquest: “In my opinion, [my findings] provide strong support for the proposition that the Renault van was in direct collision with Mr Thomas during the terrorist incident at London Bridge.”
The toxicologist David Cowan said anabolic steroids taken by the three attackers were unlikely to have made them more aggressive. He said they were likely to have been taken no longer than a day before the incident.
Those who died in the attack, along with the perpetrators, were Sara Zelenak, 21, Alexandre Pigeard, 26, Christine Archibald, 30, James McMullan, 32, Kirsty Boden, 28, Sebastien Belanger, 36, Ignacio Echeverria, 39 as well as Thomas.
The inquest continues.