Bottom Line Up Front
- Sudesh Amman committed a terrorist attack in Streatham, London over the weekend after having served half of a prison sentence of three years and four months.
- This is the third case of terrorist recidivism in the United Kingdom in recent months, which included an attack on London Bridge in November 2019 and another at a maximum security prison in January 2020.
- The UK has responded with emergency legislation to end the automatic release of terrorist offenders in prison without review, coming on the heels of nearly 180 convicted ‘Islamist terrorists,’ as categorized by the UK government, having secured early release in the last two decades.
- The incident also illustrates an increase in the use of low-grade weapons for maximum impact, often by lone wolf terrorists with no official affiliation to a specific terrorist organisation.
Over the weekend, Sudesh Amman stabbed two members of the public in Streatham, London before being intercepted by plain-clothes police officers monitoring him following his release from prison just over a week ago. Despite the quick action of the police, questions are being posed by the British Government about the UK’s de-radicalization programs and sentencing systems as Amman marks the third case of terrorist recidivism in the country in recent months. Amman had been in prison to serve three years for possession and dissemination of terrorist material, before being released ahead of schedule. He allegedly pledged allegiance to the so-called Islamic State during his time in prison.
Robert Buckland, Britain’s justice secretary, stated on Monday afternoon that the government will introduce emergency legislation to end the automatic release of terrorist offenders after serving half their sentence in prison without review. Any release before the end of their sentence will depend on a more comprehensive risk assessment by the parole board. In a highly unusual move, the legislation will also apply to currently serving prisoners. Such a decision is largely reflective of the UK’s crisis in determining whether those released from its prisons for terrorist offenses continue to pose a significant threat to the public. In December 2019, the British government was warned that up to 180 convicted Islamist terrorists had been released early from jail in the last two decades.
Amman’s case, as well as that of Brusthom Ziamini, who was imprisoned for attempting to behead a solider, raises questions on whether prisons in the UK are equipped to deal with the ‘de-radicalization’ of terrorist offenders. In January, Ziamini was one of the prisoners suspected of being involved in the serious assault on prison officers, which has since been classified as a ‘terror attack.’ Around the clock monitoring of terrorist offenders after release comes at great cost to the state — perhaps because of this — Terrorist Prevention and Investigative Measures (TPIMs) have been used in just a handful of cases. Upon release, counter-terrorism officials decided Amman needed unlimited surveillance by officers. Soon after this decision, Amman was assessed to be even more dangerous than originally thought and surveillance officers were ordered to be armed. The rapid response to Amman’s behavior by police helped limit casualties on Sunday, when the attack took place. The perpetrator was effectively neutralized and casualties were far more limited in nature than if the police had not been able to intervene so quickly.
Monitoring terrorists after release is complicated by the fact that offenders such as Amman, Ziamini, and Usman Khan have used low-grade weapons such as kitchen knives to carry out their assaults. This trend is evident in the shift from more sophisticated techniques such as those employed in the Manchester Arena bombing in 2017, where the chemical triacetone triperoxide (TATP) was used to make a pipe bomb. While the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack on Sunday, recent terrorist attacks nonetheless represent shifting tactics used by the group’s followers. Terrorist groups are opportunistic and seek to take advantage of emerging trends and methods of launching attacks. Soon after the Streatham attack, al-Qaeda released a propaganda video urging its followers to use a household knife to conduct attacks if no other alternatives were available. Several offenders have also used fake suicide vests in an attempt to ‘martyr’ themselves for the cause, well aware of the likelihood that they will be shot by police. Other proposals suggested to tighten monitoring of terrorists already released from prison include the re-introduction of control orders, which were abandoned in 2010 by the government in power at the time. Control orders put terrorist suspects under even closer supervision, with tight restrictions on who they meet and where they go.