Can a terrorist be reformed? Is a terrorist always a terrorist? Do multiple years in prison provide for any sort of rehabilitation or is there no redemption for the evil amongst us? I ask this because the most recent terror attack that occurred in the U.K. brings incredible irony.
Multiple news outlets at home and abroad reported on the incident. I’m including a link to an article from Independent.co.uk. If you go to their site you can watch a video and learn more about the ongoing investigation. The terrorist attack occurred this past Friday at a bridge named after the city. Here is some information as reported on by the Independent.
A man and a woman were killed and several other people were wounded in a stabbing attack on London Bridge by a convicted terrorist known to police. Police fatally shot the attacker, who was wearing a fake suicide vest, after several people were stabbed at about 2 pm on Friday.
The assailant, named as 28-year-old Usman Khan, was convicted in 2012 for terrorism offenses and released from prison in December 2018 on license, Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu said.
The attacker had links to al-Muhajiroun, the group led by Anjem Choudary and dubbed Britain’s “most proliﬁc and dangerous extremist group”, The Independent understands. Al-Muhajiroun was regenerating after a number of supporters were released from prison, this website reported in February.
Mr. Basu said: “The circumstances, as we currently understand them, are that the attacker attended an event earlier on Friday afternoon at Fishmongers’ Hall called ‘Learning Together’.
The Times reported the attacker was attending a Cambridge University conference on prisoner rehabilitation at Fishmongers’ Hall, at the north end of the bridge, and had threatened to blow up the building. The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) has ordered a review into the attack having learnt of the perpetrator’s identity soon after it took place, the paper further reported.
The terrorist stabbed several people before being detained by members of the public, who were praised for their heroism after pinning him down on the ground. He was then killed by police.
It should be noted that on the same day there was a second stabbing attack in The Hague, Netherlands. According to APNews.com, three minors were injured. As of this writing, police are still looking for the suspect. Investigators say they are considering all possible motives, including terrorism.
According to TheGuardian.com, the Islamic State (ISIS) has said that the London Bridge attack on Friday was carried out by one of its fighters, though they did not provide any evidence.
The group’s Amaq news agency reported that the attack was made in response to ISIS calls to target countries that have been part of a coalition fighting the jihadist group. Whether ISIS or any of its members are responsible for the attack in The Hague is still unknown.
Here’s what we know so far about the London Bridge attack.
- Two people were killed, a man and a woman. The man has been named as 25-year-old Jack Merritt, the course coordinator for Learning Together, a program run by the University of Cambridge’s Institute of criminology, which was running the event. Three people, a man, and two women are injured and remain in hospital.
- A convicted murderer was among ex-prisoners and members of the public who grappled with the attacker.
- Among those who pinned down the attacker was James Ford, 42, who is also thought to have tried to save the life of a woman who had been stabbed. He was jailed for life in 2004 for the murder of 21-year-old Amanda Champion.
- Usman Khan was previously jailed for an al-Qaida inspired plot to blow up the London Stock Exchange and was wearing an electronic tag at the time of the attack. He was released from jail on license in 2018, halfway through a 16-year sentence.
- Khan’s lawyer told the Guardian that his client had asked for help to be de-radicalized while he was in prison.
Given what we know about the attack let’s unpack this story even further and point out the multitude of ironies, as there are so many. First, you have the attacker. He was originally sentenced to life in prison for his plot to blow up the London Stock Exchange in 2012. Petitions by his lawyer to help his client become rehabilitated and “de-radicalized” led to a reduced sentence of 16 years. Assuming he showed signs of behavioral change or was just the benefit of prison reform, he served half of the 16 years and was released. His only requirement other than checking in with authorities and notifying them of his whereabouts was to wear an electronic monitoring tag.
One of the murdered victims was the coordinator of a conference on prisoner rehabilitation. This is the same event the attacker was scheduled to attend. His father, David, who described him as a “champion for underdogs everywhere”, confirmed Merritt’s death. David Merritt posted on Twitter on Saturday: “My son, Jack, who was killed in this attack, would not wish his death to be used as the pretext for more draconian sentences or for detaining people unnecessarily.”
His words came as Boris Johnson said the system of automatic release from prison was flawed.
Merritt said: “Cambridge has lost a proud son and a champion for underdogs everywhere, but especially those dealt a losing hand by life, who ended up in the prison system.”
In what seems to be the ultimate irony of this event was the assistance brought on by a convicted murderer.
Among those who pinned down the attacker was James Ford, 42, who is also thought to have tried to save the life of a woman who had been stabbed. Ford was jailed for life in 2004 for the murder of 21-year-old Amanda Champion.
Ford, who is understood to be serving the final days of his sentence at HMP Standford Hill, an open prison in Kent, was on London Bridge as the attack unfolded.
David Wilson, a professor of criminology at Birmingham City University and chair of the Friends of Grendon prison – where Ford was previously – said the prisoner went through an intensive period of psychotherapy.
“I only picked up it was James Ford as a consequence of them publishing his photo … I remember him and indeed some others from the Friends of Grendon charity.”
He said what happened was a tale of two prisoners; with Ford an example of how people can change. “I know through my work that people do change and they change as a consequence of innovative but challenging regimes such as the one at HMP Grendon.”
So there you have it. Three lives forever intertwined. One was incarcerated previously for his goal of causing terror. He succeeded finally after becoming the benefit of a prison reform system. Whether it’s apropos that his terrorist attack occurred at an event promoting criminal justice reform is for you to decide. The recipient of his brutality was none other than the event coordinator who most likely would have been in favor of his release. Were it not for prison reform, a convicted murderer would not have been able to assist in detaining the attacker, therefore preventing more deaths.
When used as noun terrorism is defined as the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims. A terrorist is defined as an advocate or practitioner of terrorism. The attacker in this latest incident clearly fits into that category. A prisoner is a person who is kept in a prison as a punishment for a crime that they have committed. Prison reform is the attempt to improve conditions inside prisons, improve the effectiveness of a penal system, or implement alternatives to incarceration. Whether you can group a terrorist into the broader group of prisoners who can be rehabilitated and is deserving of reform is ultimately contingent on the type of crime committed and society’s overall belief on whether or not people can change.
Hindsight is always 20/20. There will always be those who view this horrible attack as proof that prison reform is ineffective and that those who commit crimes are undeserving of any leniency. Others will point out the example of the released murderer who assisted in preventing additional deaths as proof that prison reform can and does work. Are people born evil or did they become that way? Seeing as how most terrorists become radicalized through a myriad of indoctrination techniques is it possible to reverse their way of thinking? Can a leopard change its spots? Is a terrorist capable of change?