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London Bridge attack becomes election issue

December 1, 2019

Revelations that the London Bridge attacker was a convicted terrorist, freed halfway through a 16-year sentence, have sparked outrage. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has vowed to strengthen prison sentences, if reelected.

Boris Johnson visits scene of London Bridge attack
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/S. Parsons

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has taken aim at the country's policy of early prisoner release and vowed to strengthen prison sentences following Friday's deadly London Bridge attack.

Johnson, who is fighting to regain a parliamentary majority for his ruling Conservatives in the UK's election later this month, vowed to invest more money into the prison system if his party wins.

"We are going to bring in tougher sentences for serious sexual and violent offenders and for terrorists," he told the BBC's Andrew Marr on Sunday.

"I absolutely deplore the fact that this man was out on the street, I think it was absolutely repulsive and we are going to take action," he added.

His comments follow revelations that the killer had been convicted of previous terrorism offenses and had served just half of his 16-year prison sentence for plotting to bomb the London Stock Exchange.

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Usman Khan, 28, went on the rampage on London Bridge on Friday, stabbing two people to death and wounding three others. Police shot him dead after he flashed what appeared to be a suicide vest. It later turned out to be a fake.

Khan was released from prison in December 2018, despite the judge in his case warning that he remained "an ongoing danger to the public."

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Law and order tops election agenda

Public anger over the latest twist quickly spread to social media, but Johnson wasn't the only politician to seize on the outrage ahead of the snap vote on December 12.

His main opponent raised doubts about the Conservatives' handling of Khan's parole and the wider justice system.

"We need to investigate fully the way all aspects of the criminal justice system operate," said Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, branding the London Bridge incident "a complete disaster."

However, when later asked by Sky News if convicted terrorists should serve their full sentences, Corbyn said: "No, not necessarily."

A former Labour minister, Yvette Cooper, said on Twitter that the government was "warned about the risks" of scrapping a program introduced by Labour that handed dangerous prisoners an indefinite sentence.

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Questions over rehabilitation

Britain's Parole Board, meanwhile, said it had no role to play in Khan's freedom as he was released automatically on license — which means he had to meet certain conditions or face a return to prison — as required by UK law.

Although his release was subject to conditions, no agency was given the task of determining if Khan still held radical views — he and his accomplices had links to radical preacher Anjem Choudary.

Nearly all offenders in Britain are released on license midway through their sentence under rules introduced in 2003.

The Ministry of Justice says it will now urgently review the policy for releasing convicted terrorists.

The UK's justice secretary has previously vowed to toughen the early release scheme so offenders would serve two-thirds of their sentence in jail.

mm/cmk (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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