Man viewed extreme Isis content before Reading knife attack, court hears

By Vikram Dodd

A man who stabbed three people to death in a minute in an alleged terrorist rampage had viewed material about a notorious Isis killer, a court has heard.

Khairi Saadallah murdered three men in a park in Reading on 20 June as they enjoyed a summer’s evening.

A hearing at the Old Bailey to determine if the attacks were terrorist acts and therefore subject to a higher sentence, was told that Saadallah viewed extremist material in the days before the attack and had a longstanding interest in extremism.

It also heard that Saadallah, 26, bought the knife from a supermarket the day before the stabbing spree in which he stabbed three people to death, wounded three others, and shouted: “Allahu Akbar”.

He has already admitted to three murders and three attempted murders at an earlier hearing.

The hearing was told Saadallah had in 2019 accessed material on his mobile phone about Mohammed Emwazi , the Isis propagandist seen in videos taunting victims before killing them, and two days before the attack had accessed a website with the flag associated with Isis, which had staged numerous attacks against western targets.

The prosecutor, Alison Morgan QC, said Saadallah, who was from Libya, believed the murders were an act of holy war.

His victims were three men enjoying a summer evening in Forbury Gardens, Reading, during the first national lockdown. They were James Furlong, 36, a history teacher; David Wails, 49, a scientist; and an American pharmaceutical worker Joseph Ritchie-Bennett, 39. The men died after being stabbed by Saadallah as they sat on the grass at about 7pm. Ritchie-Bennett and Furlong died after single wounds to their necks. Wails was stabbed once in the back.

Saadallah also stabbed and wounded their friend Stephen Young and two other men, Patrick Edwards and Nishit Nisudan, who were sat nearby.

Morgan told the hearing: “In less than a minute, shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’, the defendant carried out a lethal attack with a knife, killing all three men before they had a chance to respond and try to defend themselves.

“Within the same minute, the defendant went on to attack others nearby, stabbing three more people … The defendant was ruthlessly efficient in his actions. The prosecution’s case is that the attack perpetrated by the defendant was carefully planned and executed with determination and precision.

“The defendant believed that in carrying out this attack he was acting in pursuit of his extreme ideology, an ideology he appears to have held for some time. He believed that in killing as many people as possible that day he was performing an act of religious jihad.”

Morgan said Saadallah had carried out reconnaissance of the park and had been pictured in Libya handling firearms, and had come to Britain in 2012 after having been part of a militia opposing the regime of Muammar Gaddafi.

In Britain, Saadallah was refused asylum and started offending, carrying out thefts and assaults, for which he was jailed. He was assessed as having an emotionally unstable and antisocial personality disorder, and in jail was seen as “impressionable and volatile” and keen to associate with a known extremist preacher Omar Brooks in about 2017.

Morgan said this showed Saadallah, three years before the attack, was still interested in the extremism he had been exposed to in the chaos of Libya.

On 5 June, two weeks before his stabbing rampage, he was released from jail and in the days preceding the attack made a series of internet searches. These included whether coronavirus was “a sign of the end of the world”, military activity in Libya, body bags, the park where the attacks happened, and how to disappear with magic – believed to be linked to witchcraft.

He also accessed the website with the flag linked to Isis and the hearing heard that his probation officer became concerned about him, but when a crisis team visited him on 19 June he refused to open the door. That day he also went to a Morrison’s supermarket and bought the knife he used to stab six people.

The hearing before a judge continues.