UK police in the early hours of Saturday named the 28-year-old convicted terrorist who was shot dead on Friday in the heart of London’s financial district after stabbing a man and a woman to death and injuring three other people.
Neil Basu, assistant commissioner for counter-terrorism of London’s Metropolitan Police, said the man was Usman Khan, who had been living in Staffordshire, in the West Midlands of England. Khan had been convicted of terrorism offences in 2012 and released on licence — a form of supervised release — in December last year. Khan was wearing an electronic monitoring tag as he carried out the attack.
Mr Basu said officers were carrying out searches at “an address in Staffordshire” as part of their investigation. “Clearly, a key line of inquiry now is to establish how he came to carry out this attack,” the assistant commissioner said.
Khan was one of nine people jailed in 2012 over a plot to blow up the London Stock Exchange — only a short walk from Friday’s attack — and to build a terror training camp. At the time of his conviction Khan was described as being from Stoke-on-Trent, in Staffordshire.
Mr Basu confirmed that Khan had been attending an event organised by “Learning Together” — a group based at Cambridge University that brings together prisoners and higher education institutions — at Fishmongers’ Hall, an historic building in the City of London next to London Bridge.
“We believe that the attack began inside before he left the building and proceeded on to London Bridge, where he was detained and subsequently confronted and shot by armed officers,” Mr Basu said.
The incident came less than a fortnight before Britons go to the polls, underlining the growing security risk of UK elections. The 2016 Brexit referendum and the last general election in 2017 were both conducted in the wake of terrorist incidents. The similarities are particularly striking given that London Bridge was also the site of the terror attack that struck just five days before the June 2017 election.
Cressida Dick, Metropolitan Police commissioner, said police had been called at 1.58pm to reports of a stabbing and that officers from the City of London force confronted and killed the attacker five minutes later.
Ben Jarman, a criminology researcher who was at the criminal justice event, tweeted that some of those who had been present at Fishmongers’ Hall had died or were injured and asked for people to respect that fact. Amy Coop, an actor who had been participating in the event, wrote on Twitter that a fellow attendee had taken a long narwhal tusk hanging on the wall of the historic building and rushed out to confront the attacker with it on London Bridge.
The attacker’s status as a released prisoner appears to have been behind comments by Boris Johnson, the prime minister, on Friday evening about his distaste for early release from prison for serious and violent prisoners. A pledge to end the practice has been one of many tough criminal justice provisions in the Conservatives’ election manifesto.
“I have long argued that it is a mistake to allow serious and violent criminals to come out of prison early and it is very important that we get out of that habit and that we enforce the appropriate sentences for dangerous criminals, especially for terrorists, that I think the public want to see,” Mr Johnson said.
Stephen Toope, vice-chancellor of the University of Cambridge, said he was “devastated” to learn of the incident’s connection with the university.
“We are in touch with the Metropolitan Police, and awaiting further details of the victims,” Professor Toope said. “We mourn the dead and we hope for a speedy recovery for the injured.”
A video of the shooting, apparently filmed from the top deck of a bus stopped on London Bridge, showed multiple passers-by wrestling with a man armed with a knife and one walking away with the weapon. Armed police officers then arrived and, after instructing the bystanders to stand clear, appeared to shoot the man.
NHS chief executive Simon Stevens said the ambulance service had treated people at the scene and three had been taken to hospital: one patient was critical but stable after the attack, a second was in a stable condition and a third had less serious injuries.
Dame Cressida made an appeal for unity, telling Londoners the “empty ideology of terror offers nothing but hatred and today I urge everyone to reject that”.
“Ours is a great city because we embrace each others’ differences,” she said. “We must emerge stronger from this tragedy.”
The prime minister returned to Downing Street from his Uxbridge constituency shortly after being told of the attack
He said he would suspend his election campaigning for the evening and on Saturday. He convened a meeting of Cobra, the government’s emergency committee, at 9.30pm on Friday.
“Anybody involved in this crime and these attacks will be hunted down and will be brought to justice,” he said. “This country will never be cowed or divided or intimidated by this sort of attack and our values, our British values, will prevail.” Mr Johnson also paid tribute to the “bravery” of the emergency services and members of the public who intervened.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the opposition party was “suspending campaigning in London tonight as a mark of respect for those who suffered in this attack”. The Liberal Democrats also suspended a “Stop Brexit” rally planned for Saturday.
The incident comes only weeks after the Home Office downgraded the UK’s terror threat level, which estimates the risk of a terror attack, from “severe” to “substantial”, the first such shift in five years.
Raffaello Pantucci, director of international security studies at the Royal United Services Institute, a think-tank in London, said the attack highlighted the febrile security situation around UK polls. “With the exception of the European Parliamentary elections, which are somewhat different, the EU referendum and every election for the past three years has taken place in the shadow of a terrorist attack,” he said.
Ben Middleton, who was among those evacuated from Fishmongers’ Hall, said people had rushed down steps from the bridge to the river path in panic. “Police officers were pushing people back,” he said. “We had been hearing quite a lot of what sounded like gunfire. A gap of two or three minutes in between. The gunfire was heard at about 2.05pm local time.”
Charlie Bibby, a Financial Times photographer who was in the area, said police river launches were searching the area under the bridge while a bus on the road above had a shattered rear window.
Police sealed off London Bridge and its approaches, including the riverside Thames path and Upper Thames Street, while two police helicopters circled above. Witnesses were being sheltered in the basement of a Salvation Army building on Queen Victoria Street, near the Millennium Bridge, before being debriefed.
A policeman in the City confirmed that “it is a worry” that the incident on the bridge was part of a larger set of planned attacks. He said this was why more than 30 witnesses had been taken into the debrief facility.
Officers were focused on “making sure nothing else happens, nothing else is in the pipeline”, he said.
Sadiq Khan, London’s mayor, called the event a “horrendous incident” and that he remained in “close contact” with the Met. He hailed the passers-by who had intervened to help disarm the attacker. “They really are the best of us and another example of the bravery and heroism of ordinary Londoners running towards danger, risking their own personal safety to try to save others,” he said.
Dame Cressida said there would be increased patrols by armed officers over the coming days.
Additional reporting by Karen Crawcour in London