In Depth

Reading terror attack: what we know so far

Sources say Libyan suspect in stabbings that claimed three lives was known to MI5

A man being held of suspicion of fatally stabbing three people in a Reading park had been investigated by MI5 last year, according to security sources.

Libyan refugee Khairi Saadallah was arrested shortly after the stabbing spree on Saturday evening, and has now been re-arrested under Section 41 of the Terrorism Act 2000, the BBC reports. 

Saadallah, 25, had left jail just 16 days before the attack in the Berkshire’s town Forbury Gardens, after serving less than half of a 28-month sentence for non-terror-related offences, adds The Sun.

What happened?

Witnesses say that a knife-wielding man approached a group of friends in the popular town-centre park shortly before 7pm on Saturday, reports The Telegraph.

Lawrence Wort, 20, a personal trainer from Chippenham, said: “The park was pretty full, a lot of people sat around drinking with friends when one lone person walked through, suddenly shouted some unintelligible words and went around a large group of around ten, trying to stab them.

“He stabbed three of them, severely in the neck, and under the arms, and then turned and started running towards me, and we turned and started running.

“When he realised that he couldn’t catch us, he tried to stab another group sat down, he got one person in the back of the neck and then when he realised everyone was starting to run, he ran out the park.”

Another witness described how he realised something was wrong after seeing “a gentleman who I believe was stabbed in the eye, his right eye”.

Software developer Brendan Healy, 55, told The Guardian that he had tried to perform CPR on one victim after seeing three people lying injured on the grass. 

The knifeman was reportedly rugby-tackled to the ground by a police officer near the park within minutes of the first emergency call.

Saadallah remains in custody, and his flat, around a mile from the park, is under a police cordon.

Who is the suspect?

Saadallah is a Libyan refugee who was granted asylum in the UK after coming to Britain several years ago as a refugee following the civil war in his home land.

He was investigated by the security services last year after MI5 “received information that he had aspirations to travel abroad - potentially for terrorism”, says the BBC.

The Sun reports that Saadallah was added to the security agency’s “long list” of around 40,000 suspects after expressing a desire to join Islamic State in Syria.

However, the investigation into his activities is said to have been dropped after no genuine threat or immediate risk was identified.

Saadallah is also understood to have served prison sentences for non-terror-related offences including possession of a bladed weapon, assaulting a police officer, breaching a suspended jail term, racially aggravated assault, criminal damage and affray, according to the newspaper. 

A source told The Sun that Saadallah “had a history of violence and serious mental health problems”, while neighbours claimed that he peddled drugs.

Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust declined to comment on reports that the suspect was being treated for mental health conditions.

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What will happen next?

The head of counterterrorism policing, Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Neil Bas, said yesterday that “officers have found nothing to suggest that there was anyone else involved in this attack”.

“Although the motivation for this horrific act is far from certain, counterterrorism policing have taken responsibility for leading the investigation,” Bas added.

If confirmed as a terrorist offence, the attack would be the fourth in the UK since November.

Detectives are interviewing Saadallah today “and a huge operation will have swung into operation”, says the BBC’s home affairs correspondent Dominic Casciani.

“Electronic analysts will delve into any social media accounts linked to the suspect; they’ll trawl every call and text message going back years, looking for contacts with extremists. Intelligence officers at MI5 will review both their open and closed case files on so-called ‘subjects of interest’,” adds Casciani.

In the wake of the attack, Boris Johnson has indicated that he is prepared to make changes to the law in order to prevent suspected terrorists from slipping through the net.

“If there are lessons that we need to learn about how we handle such cases, how we handle the events leading up to such cases, we will learn those lessons, and we will not hesitate to take action where necessary,” the prime minister said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Home Secretary Priti Patel stayed “up with officials into the early hours of Sunday morning to understand the suspect’s full immigration status and criminal background”, says The Guardian.

“The event will embolden our plans to reform the asylum system and speed up deportations for foreign national offenders through legislation, which will likely be opposed by the opposition,” a Whitehall source told the newspaper.

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