Tributes paid to victims of Reading terror attack as details of MI5 watchlist emerge

23 June 2020, 06:05

Khairi Saadallah was arrested by police near the scene of the attack
Khairi Saadallah was arrested by police near the scene of the attack. Picture: LBC News
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

Three friends killed during a suspected terror attack at a park in Reading have been hailed the "loveliest people" as the suspect in the case has been detained under the Terrorism Act.

Monday afternoon saw tributes paid to Joe Ritchie-Bennett, 39, originally from Philadelphia in the US, history teacher James Furlong, 36, and David Wails who was named locally on Monday afternoon.

Counter-terrorism detectives continue to investigate the incident, with officers holding a 25-year-old man, understood to be Khairi Saadallah, in custody after he was detained a short distance from the scene at Forbury Gardens and arrested on suspicion of murder on Saturday night.

Saadallah, a refugee of the civil war in Libya who briefly came to the attention of MI5 last year, is thought to have been released from prison earlier this month after he was convicted of non-terror offences.

Read more: Reading terror attack: Third victim named as scientist David Wails

A heart-shaped floral tribute to the three victims could be seen outside The Blagrave Arms pub in Reading, alongside candles and a note which read: "The Blagrave Arms management and staff are devastated at the announcement that the three people who died in the Forbury Gardens attack on Saturday were regular customers and very dear friends of ours.

"Our hearts go out to their family and friends, and the other victims of this horrific incident."

A message among the flowers paid tribute to the three, adding: "Our friends were the kindest, most genuine, and most loveliest people in our community that we had the pleasure in knowing.

"They'll be forever in our thoughts."

Any ideology or motivation behind the attack is still unclear, LBC News understands.

Tributes were paid across Reading on Monday
Tributes were paid across Reading on Monday. Picture: PA

Saadallah was tackled to the ground by an unarmed police officer close to the scene at Forbury Gardens on Saturday evening and arrested on suspicion of murder.

He was later re-arrested under Section 41 of the Terrorism Act, which gives powers to hold him without charge for up to 14 days.

On Monday detectives were granted a warrant of further detention until Saturday. Police have said they are not looking for anyone else in connection with the attack.

Early on Tuesday, Scotland Yard's head of counter-terrorism policing called those who assisted victims of Saturday's attack "heroes" who inspired others to "step forward and play our part".

Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu also encouraged members of the public to view the Action Counters Terrorism (ACT) website and complete the CT Policing online course.

Three people who were injured and treated in hospital had been discharged by Monday evening.

Reports from security sources suggest that MI5 had received intelligence that Saadallah planned to travel abroad, possibly for terrorism purposes, but the threat was found to be insubstantial and the information provided did not meet the threshold of investigation.

Meanwhile, light has been shone on the fact the number of people on an MI5 watchlist has risen by thousands.

A government document from March this year titled Transparency Report: Disruptive Powers 2018/2019, said MI5 was investigating approximately 3000 subjects of interest (SOIs) across 600 priority investigations.

It said as soon as MI5 judged an SOI no longer posed a threat, that SOI was downgraded and placed in a "closed" category called Closed Subject of Interest (CSOI).

"This does not mean these SOIs will never pose a threat again, but merely that their current level of threat is not judged to be sufficient to prioritise allocating investigative resource against them," the report said.

It goes on to say the public figure for the number of CSOIs in 2017 was 20,000, and that there are now currently more than 40,000 CSOIs.

As counter-terror officers investigate Saturday's attack, mental health is understood to be considered a major factor.

As counter-terror officers investigate, mental health is understood to be considered a major factor in Saturday attack.

A mental health alert was raised when Saadallah was not home on Friday evening and a 'street triage' team of police officers and psychiatric nurses later found him on a Reading street, the Daily Mail reported citing sources.

The team took him home to his council flat prior to midnight on Saturday, just hours before he is alleged to have carried out the attack in Forbury Gardens.

The suspect was jailed in October for a string of non-terror offences before his sentence was reduced at the Court of Appeal to a term of 17 months and 20 days.

One of the appeal judges who gave the judgment in March, Mr Justice Goss, noted Saadallah's various mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder and personality disorder, in reducing the sentence.

The offences included affray, assault by beating, assaulting an emergency worker, criminal damage, having a bladed article and a racially aggravated assault involving a police officer.