Lone wolvesMI5, Prevent Deemed Reading Attack Suspect Not Worth Investigation

Published 23 June 2020

Saturday knife attack in Reading, U.K., in which three people were killed, is being investigated as an act of terrorism, but investigators say that the 25-year old suspect’s long history of serious mental health issues, exacerbated by heavy drug use, is also being considered. In the last two years, the Libyan national, who was granted asylum in Britain in 2018, was investigated twice for possible ties to Jihadi extremists, but counterterrorism specialists at Prevent and MI5 determined that he had no clear ideology, posed no threat to the public, and required additional mental health care.

Khairi Saadallah, 25, the suspect in the Reading, Berkshire stabbings on Saturday, was twice evaluated by the British security services but was deemed to pose no danger of staging an attack.

In the past two years, Saadallah was referred to Prevent, the government’s anti-radicalization strategy, and then to MI5, but the examination of his case by security experts in both organizations found no reason to detain him or place him under tighter monitoring.

Dean Haydon, the U.K. senior national coordinator for counter-terrorism, determined the stabbings should be treated as a terrorist attack, but he said investigators were keeping an open mind as to motivation.

Saadallah has a long record of extensive mental health problems, and investigators said they consider this fact to be a significant factor. The three people he stabbed to death were members of the LGBT community, and investigators are looking at that as another contributing factor in the attack.

The Guardian reports that in 2018, an examination by Prevent’s radicalization specialists found Saadallah to have no clear ideology. It was determined that his deteriorating mental state required additional mental health support. It was also in 2018 that Saadallah, a native of Libya, was granted asylum in the United Kingdom.

In the summer of 2019, MI5, acting on reports, investigated Saadallah as a person who might travel to Libya “for extremist reasons.” MI5 investigators, too, found him to be confused and incoherent, and assessed the report of his extremist leanings to lack credibility. He was assessed to fall far below the legal threshold for a more thorough investigation.

Detectives with the Counter-Terrorism Policing South-East, which covers the Reading area, have poured over his mental health record. Saadallah had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and an emotionally unstable personality disorder. His mental condition was not helped by his heavy use of drugs, including hallucinogens.

Neighbors of the Saadallah family said that a couple of years ago he converted to Christianity. It is not clear whether he did convert, but he did regularly volunteer at a local church.

John Campbell, chief constable of Thames Valley Police, said police officers do not believe there to be a wider risk to the public. He said: “I would like to reiterate that there is nothing to suggest that anyone else is involved in this offence and we are confident this is an isolated incident.

“In the past when there has been a terrorist attack, at home or abroad, we have seen the national terror threat level change increase. That has not happened in this case, which is confirmation of the security services assessment following this incident.”