De-radicalisation policy in the spotlight after another London attack

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledges to speed up implementation of new counter-terrorism legislation.
Saturday 08/02/2020
Police attend the scene after an incident in Streatham, London, Sunday Feb. 2, 2020. (AFP)
Police attend the scene after an incident in Streatham, London, Sunday Feb. 2, 2020. (AFP)

LONDON - Following another terrorist attack on London streets on 2 February by a former terrorist convict, more questions are being asked about Britain’s counter-radicalisation program for convicted terrorists and the parole process for those who have completed their sentences.

Sudesh Amman, aged 20, was shot dead by police on Streatham High Road in South London after stabbing two people in what police deemed an Islamist-related terrorist attack. Amman had been released from prison one week after serving just half of his sentence for terror offenses.

It was the second such attack – carried out by a terrorist convict released from prison – to have occurred in London in less than three months. The previous incident saw Usman Khan stab five people, killing two, in a knife attack on London Bridge on 29 November.

Speaking to BBC’s Today Program, Ian Acheson warned that Briton’s prisons simply don’t have the “aptitude or attitude” to manage terrorist offenders.

Acheson, who led the independent review of the management of Islamist extremists in prison in 2016, said that risk-management system regarding the release of terrorist offenders was “broken” and warned that offenders currently in prison were so dangerous that they might need to be kept in prison “indefinitely” regardless of their sentencing.

“We are going to have to accept that we have to be much more sceptical and robust about dealing with the risk of harm,” he said.

"Blame is a strong word – the prison service obviously cannot be blamed for lawfully releasing this man when they had to. I am more concerned about what happened when he was in custody,” Acheson added.

He said that he did not support indefinite prison sentences for terrorist offenders, but that much more work was needed on the issue of de-radicalisation.

“I don’t think there should be a lock-up-and-throw-away-the key – we need to be as equally aggressive about trying to help people turn their lives around as we are determined to protect the public,” he said.

Questions are being asked about how Amman was released from prison just months after the London Bridge attack and which saw the UK government pledge to end the early release of terrorist offenders.

According to reports, Amman was also under police surveillance at the time of the attack, raising more questions about when and how terrorist offenders are released from prison.  The Met police confirmed that the armed officers who shot Amman were part of a “proactive counter-terrorism operation” following him on foot and were in “immediate attendance” of the knife attack.

Streatham MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy said: "He [Amman] was under surveillance quite soon after being released which begs the question, why was he released so soon?"

Prime Minister Boris Johnson had promised to toughen terrorism sentences and end early release for serious offenders following the London Bridge attack in late November. The new legislation, which is set to be introduced to parliament in the next few months, would also increase the number of probation officers specialising in counterterrorism and also grant counterterrorist police a 10% funding increase, according to the British Home Office. 

Following Sunday's attack, Johnson pledged to bring forward the new legislation to stop the system of automatic early release. "But the difficulty is how to apply that to the cohort of people who qualify. We do think it's time to take action to ensure that people in the current stream do not qualify automatically for early release," Johnson said at a press conference on Monday.