Libyan asylum seeker jailed for life for UK triple murder
A Libyan asylum seeker who stabbed three men to death in a rampage through a British park last year was jailed for life on Monday.
Judge Nigel Sweeney said Khairi Saadallah’s attack in Forbury Gardens, Reading, last June was so “swift, ruthless and brutal” that none of his victims stood a chance.
He rejected the 26-year-old’s argument that he was not motivated by terror and that he was mentally ill at the time of the killings.
Saadallah, who shouted “Allahu Akbar” (God is Greatest) as he fatally stabbed the three friends with an eight-inch (20-centimetre) knife and injured three more, pleaded guilty in November.
Judge Sweeney then heard arguments about whether Saadallah was motivated by religion, politics or ideology, and whether the attack was premeditated or influenced by his mental state at the time.
Sentencing him at the Old Bailey court in central London, the judge said Saadallah’s case had been “rare and exceptional”.
He had used combat experience gained while fighting in Libya’s civil war to target a “vulnerable area (and) inevitably cause death”, Sweeney said.
During the attack and afterwards, Saadallah had been “seeking to advance a political, religious or ideological cause”, the judge added.
James Furlong, 36, Dr David Wails, 49, and Joseph Ritchie-Bennett, 39, were each killed with a single thrust of the knife in the attack, which lasted less than a minute, the court was told.
Three others — Stephen Young, 51, Patrick Edwards, 29, and Nishit Nisudan, 34 — were also injured before Saadallah fled the scene with an off-duty police officer in pursuit.
Witnesses described seeing a lone assailant walking through the park shortly after 7 pm on June 20 last year and stabbing his victims at random.
The attacker looked as if he had put his hands “in a big bucket of red paint”, one said.
– ‘Unspeakably violent’ –
Outside the court, David Wails’ brother Andrew told the BBC the loss had been “devastating” to the family. “We know that our lives and the lives of everyone who knew and loved David will never be the same,” he said.
Superintendent Nick John, local area policing commander for Reading, said Saadallah’s attack was “unspeakably violent”.
“Saadallah set out that day to incite fear and to divide people. Everyone in Reading has made sure that he has failed,” John added.
The Crown Prosecution Service, which brings prosecutions in England and Wales, called the attack “brutal” and “pre-planned”.
Saadallah targeted “groups of friends enjoying an evening in the park where they would have felt completely safe,” it said in a statement.
The CPS highlighted how security camera footage taken three days before the attack showed Saadallah carrying out reconnaissance in Forbury Park.
Two days before the murders, he navigated on the internet to an image of a flag associated with the jihadist Islamic State group, which was downloaded onto his mobile phone, it added.
The stabbings followed two high-profile knife attacks, one near London Bridge in central London in November 2019, and the other in Streatham, in the south of the capital, in February 2020.
Two people were killed in the first, and three were injured in the second. Both the perpetrators — who had been convicted of terrorism and released early from prison — were shot dead by armed police.
Saadallah’s arrest also raised security questions after it emerged that he was known to the intelligence services, having fought for the Islamist armed group Ansar Al Sharia in Libya.
But the domestic intelligence agency MI5 deemed him not to be a substantial risk .
Saadallah, who had been jailed prior to the attack for non-terror offences, had contact with his probation officer and was visited by police on June 19 over concern for his mental state.
However, a psychiatrist had since concluded that the events of June 20 were “unrelated to the effects of either mental disorder or substance misuse”.