Police intercepted the Reading terror suspect on the street just hours before he allegedly went on the rampage, the Daily Mail can reveal.
A specialist mental health team was asked to search for Khairi Saadallah after officials failed to find him during a routine check at his home last Friday.
Later that evening, just before midnight, he was found on a street in Reading, sources disclosed.
Saadallah is believed to have then been taken home to his council flat in the south of the town – and just hours later is alleged to have stabbed three men to death as they sat in a local park, Forbury Gardens.
Several police and psychiatric nurses, known as a ‘street triage’ team run jointly by Thames Valley Police and the NHS, encountered the 25-year-old Libyan after an alert was raised as part of his psychiatric care, sources said.
It came as a former Labour justice minister revealed in the Commons that Saadallah had been released from prison just 16 days before being arrested over the terror attack.
Maria Eagle said: ‘The person who has been arrested suspected of these offences has been reported as being of interest to the security services as a potential terrorist sympathiser and was released well before the end of his sentence from a prison – a mere 16 days before this murderous rampage took place.’
Home Secretary Priti Patel said she was unable to comment given the police investigation, but it will raise further concerns that the authorities missed opportunities to prevent Saturday’s knife attacks.
In other developments:
- The remaining victims were named as David Wails, 49, a senior scientist at a global chemicals company, and Joe Ritchie-Bennett, 39, a pharmaceutical worker originally from the US, who died along with history teacher James Furlong, 36;
- Police refused to rule out the possibility it may have been a homophobic attack;
- The Home Secretary outlined plans to speed up deportation of foreign criminals, after No 10 vowed that ‘lessons will be learned’ from the attack;
- The country’s former top counter-terror police officer, Sir Mark Rowley, warned that police and security services faced a ‘wicked problem’ deciding which of the 40,000 known threats could launch a terror attack;
- Tory MP Chris Loder praised his parliamentary assistant, named only as James, who carried out CPR on a victim of the attack, using his shirt to stem bleeding;
- Police were granted more time to question Saadallah, who was arrested on Saturday.
A specialist mental health team was asked to search for Khairi Saadallah after officials failed to find him during a routine check at his home
Police forensics officers at work near Forbury Gardens, in Reading town centre, the scene of a multiple stabbing attack which took place at around 7pm on Saturday, leaving three people dead and another three seriously injured
Flowers are placed at the entrance to the Holt School, Wokingham, Berskhire, in memory of teacher James Furlong, a victim of the terrorist attack in Forbury Gardens, Reading, on Saturday in which three people died
Official documents seen by the Mail show Saadallah – who the Mail reported yesterday was on the radar of security service MI5 last year – was under the care of psychiatric specialists. One said: ‘He has various mental health issues and a history of debt and homelessness, as well as alcohol and substance misuse, and is aggressive and unpredictable.
‘A psychiatric report dated May 21, 2019, from Dr Hasanen Al Taiar, a consultant forensic psychiatrist, concluded that he showed features of post-traumatic stress disorder and of emotionally unstable personality disorder.’ In one encounter with the police in November 2018, officers found Saadallah on a bridge where he threatened to throw himself off, the official documents show.
On a later date he was taken into police custody after being found ‘very drunk’. On that occasion he was given a piece of paper in the custody suite to explain his rights, which he used as lavatory paper.
The Home Office is also likely to face renewed scrutiny over its handling of Saadallah’s asylum application. He was granted five years’ leave to remain in this country on humanitarian grounds in 2018.
Critics called on the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice to reveal exactly how Saadallah’s case was handled – and whether tougher enforcement could have helped save three lives.
Khairi Saadallah, 25, has been accused of carrying out the knife rampage in Reading on Saturday that left three people dead. He is pictured here smoking a cannabis joint
One onlooker, Lawrence Wort (in blue), said he saw the man stab three men ‘in the neck and under the arms’ before turning around and running towards him. He and his group fled and the attacker then tried to stab another group sitting down. Two of the three victims, Joe Ritchie-Bennett, 39, and James Furlong, 36, are also pictured above (in green)
Colleagues and pupils of victim James Furlong take part in a silence at his school, the Holt School, in Wokingham today
Witnesses said the suspect, Libyan-born Khairi Saadallah, first targeted a group of men who were sitting together and drinking in the early evening sunshine at Forbury Gardens in Reading on Saturday evening
Police forensics officers carry out a search near Forbury Gardens in Reading town centre this afternoon
If any individual – including anyone with leave to remain in this country – commits a crime which is punished with 12 months or more in prison, they are liable for automatic deportation. Exceptions apply, including a range of claims under human rights laws such as the ‘right to private and family life’.
Conservative MP Lee Anderson said in the Commons yesterday: ‘There is something wrong if an individual has come into this country illegally and been granted asylum and then goes on to be a security risk.’
One criminal justice source said last night: ‘There are some pretty serious questions for the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice here. We desperately need clarity about what happened in this case.’
Dr Alan Mendoza, of the Henry Jackson Society anti-extremism think-tank, said: ‘Like so many other tragic cases, this man appears to have had countless contacts with the authorities. It’s all very well saying that lessons will be learned, but swift action needs to be taken to ensure that similar examples lead to immediate intervention.’
The mother of Manchester Arena bombing victim Martyn Hett yesterday condemned the Prime Minister’s response to the Reading incident as ‘offensive’ and ‘patronising’.
Figen Murray tweeted: ‘Please, Boris Johnson, don’t say that “lessons have to be learnt”. Having lost a loved one in a terror attack, I find it offensive/patronising.’
Last night a Ministry of Justice spokesman declined to comment in detail on the triage team’s interaction with the suspect or on Miss Eagle’s remarks in the Commons. ‘With serious offenders, extremely restrictive conditions are in place and that was the same in this case,’ he said. Thames Valley Police said: ‘Everything was done by the book.’
The child soldier who embraced life in Britain… and even became a Christian
To his family in Libya, Khairi Saadallah had embraced British life.
He made friends and converted to Christianity so he could marry a British woman who was ‘very religious’.
But his family claims his plans were scuppered by his ‘psychological problems’.
His older brother Mohamed Saadallah said fighting against former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi as a 15-year-old child soldier left his brother traumatised.
He said: ‘Khairi fought against Gaddafi in 2011 in Benghazi – when he was just 15 years old – and after the war was over he went to the UK, aged 16.
‘He is not a violent person. The reason he went to the UK was that he was upset with the way the Libyan revolution turned out, because it turned into a civil war. He did have some psychological problems, mainly as a result of his experiences in 2011.’
His sister Eiman added: ‘He suffered psychological trauma because of the conflict in Libya in 2011.
‘In Tripoli there were a lot of Gaddafi supporters who remained in positions of power after the war which was something that stuck with Khairi – he felt that all his mates had died for nothing. He became obsessed with that to the extent he didn’t want to stay in the country.’
Khairi Saadallah, 25, has been arrested for the knife rampage in Reading that left three dead and another three injured
But a family source told the Mail that the Saadallahs had enjoyed close ties with the Gaddafi family before the regime collapse in 2011.
The wealthy family, who lived in a whitewashed gated home overlooking the sea in the Andalus district of Tripoli, were said to have been friendly with the despot’s playboy son, Saif.
The source said: ‘They lived in a lovely three-storey home near his [Gaddafi’s] and would socialise with Saif sometimes.
‘When we flew back in to Tripoli we would be taken straight through the airport without having to queue.
‘Khairi’s father, Jamal, had various business interests and was involved in government circles. The family would tell people that he made his money in antiques, but I don’t know if that was the whole truth.
‘All I know is that he would fly off to Switzerland quite regularly.’
The source added that the terror suspect’s mother, Rockaya, would be distraught at her son’s arrest.
‘Rockaya is very God-fearing. It is difficult to imagine somebody she gave birth to being capable of such an atrocity,’ the source said.
A relative of Khairi Saadallah (pictured), 25, says the terror suspect arrived in the UK as a tourist in 2012 before claiming asylum because he was at risk from Islamic extremists due to him not leading a ‘strict religious life’ in Libya
The mother-of-eight and her husband are said to have become upset when Saadallah converted to Christianity about three years ago. He is said to have sent them a video of himself converting in a church in England and told them it was so he could marry a British woman.
Eiman said: ‘That’s what caused tension between him and his family in Libya – they didn’t approve of him converting to Christianity to marry a British girl, so there were problems.’
She said that her brother had no links to terrorism and there was no way he could have carried out Saturday’s attack.
She said: ‘He goes to church with his friends sometimes, he drinks alcohol, he likes to go to barbecues, and he was planning to go on a beach holiday soon.
‘He doesn’t even watch the slaughter of sheep at Eid because he gets so repulsed by violence, so how can they suggest that he did this? We see no reason, unless provoked, that he would attack the number of people they are saying he attacked. We can’t believe it to be true.’
Mohamed added: ‘I don’t believe what they’re saying about him in the news – anything he would have done would have been in self-defence.’
Saadallah’s friends in the UK also spoke of his troubles.
The 25-year-old lived in Bury and Manchester before settling in Reading where his older brother Aiman had married a British woman. A source who knew and tried to help Saadallah said: ‘I can tell you for free he’s not some kind of terrorist sympathiser.
‘He was a very troubled young man. It’s a mental health thing. There’s no history of extremism that we know of from when we knew him.’
A friend from Bury said Saadallah often had parties which were broken up by police.
‘I think he was lonely. After coming from Libya he wanted to get to know people, so he would send messages on Facebook inviting everybody round.
‘There could easily be 50 or 60 people there with loud music. He just wanted to be liked.
‘He did smoke cannabis a lot, though, when he was just hanging out. He said he’d been involved in the fighting in Libya and he’d had to leave because there was a risk of him being killed.
‘He seemed proud of his time fighting – he would show off pictures of himself posing with guns.’
Neighbours of the privately rented terraced house in Bury where Saadallah hosted parties confirmed police had been called at least once.
They said residents of the house – still used by asylum seekers – were supervised by Serco, the contractor which supports would-be refugees in the community on behalf of the Home Office. A Serco spokesman declined to comment.
Revealed: Reading terror stabbing victims were three friends – amid fears attack was motivated by homophobia as police continue to quiz suspect Khairi Saadallah
The family of an American expat killed in the terror attack condemned those who filmed the knife rampage yesterday saying they were ‘tortured’ by the footage.
They spoke out as the three victims of the Reading terror atrocity were last night revealed as close friends who were sitting in a park enjoying the sunshine when a knife maniac struck.
Pharmaceutical worker Joe Ritchie-Bennett, 39, David Wails, 49, a scientist, and teacher James Furlong, 36, were enjoying an evening drink and a picnic in Forbury Gardens.
Yesterday there was speculation that the attack could have been motivated by homophobia because the friends were said to be ‘great supporters’ of the local LGBT community. Police have not ruled this out.
Last night the elder brother of Joe Ritchie-Bennett said he was horrified that bystanders had filmed the triple murder rather than stepping in to help victims.
‘We saw that horrible video that surfaced online,’ said Robert Ritchie, 43, who is a captain with the Philadelphia police. ‘My mum told me that was him, she had just bought him those new jeans and he’d bought those shoes.
‘I don’t know why people do that. Stand around and not help or intervene. It’s hurtful to the family. It’s tough to see your brother there and people working on him and you not being there.
‘I tortured myself thinking of his final moments.’
Mr Ritchie-Bennett (left) is pictured with his late husband Ian Bennett (right), whom he married in England in November 2006. Mr Bennett died in December 2014 aged 32 after a short battle with colon cancer
Mr Ritchie-Bennett was from Philadelphia, but had been living in Britain for 15 years.
He had been working for a Dutch pharmaceutical firm in Reading for about a decade, after working for a London law firm when he first moved to England.
His spouse Ian Bennett, whom he married in England in November 2006, died in December 2014 aged 32 after a short battle with colon cancer.
Yesterday it emerged that Mr Ritchie-Bennett had been ill with coronavirus and Mr Furlong had been delivering his meals to him in isolation.
Mr Ritchie-Bennett’s brother said he had never got over the death of his spouse, but had made a home in Reading. Robert Ritchie added: ‘We last spoke a week on Sunday. He sounded great, the happiest I’ve ever heard him. He loved the people in the UK, he really found a home there. Everybody loved Joe, he was the life of the party from the time we were kids. No act of terrorism will ever take away his memory and his spirit.’
Mr Ritchie-Bennett’s father Robert, 71, a retired police chief inspector, is now a college professor who lectures on counter terrorism. ‘I’m devastated,’ he said. ‘He was a very caring and loving guy.
‘He just loved life and it was a blessing to be his father. We’ve decided to bring him home, he’s not going to be buried in the UK.’
Last night Martin Cooper, 36, who is chief executive of LGBT+ charity Reading Pride, said of the three friends: ‘Their loss is a tragedy to so many people. They will be sorely missed by myself personally and many in the community.’
Colleagues and pupils of victim James Furlong take part in a silence at his school, the Holt School, in Wokingham today
The third victim of the attack was named as David Wails, a senior scientist at a chemicals firm.
Michael Main, a friend of the three victims said: ‘I drank with David probably every day. We’d have a lot of banter. He’s the one that hits me the most because I know him more.’
Another friend of Mr Wails last night paid tribute to the scientist as a witty man with ‘lots of one liners’. The former barman struck up a friendship with Mr Wails while serving him at the Wyndham Arms, a pub that served the Reading LGBT community for 22 years before closing in 2015.
Asking to remain anonymous, he said: ‘He was a good guy, he had a lot of wit about him.’
Yesterday morning more than 100 pupils held a two-minute silence at The Holt School in Wokingham, Berkshire, in memory of history teacher Mr Furlong.
In an open letter, former students wrote: ‘His deep knowledge and love for his subject, his nurturing spirit and his unfaltering kindness towards his students are treasured by all who knew him.’