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30 Nov, 2019 16:30

Beyond rehabilitation: Terrorists get a second chance, while their victims get none

Beyond rehabilitation: Terrorists get a second chance, while their victims get none

London Bridge attacker Usman Khan was a convicted terrorist and, in the eyes of the law, a “threat to the UK.” So why was he released from prison early and paraded as an example of successful rehabilitation?

28-year-old Usman Khan stabbed two people to death and injured three others on Friday, before he was wrestled to the ground by members of the public and shot dead at point-blank range by police on London Bridge. Khan was wearing a fake suicide vest, and the incident is being treated as a terrorist attack by investigators.

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Khan was not the archetypal US-style lone-wolf attacker, the kind who one day snaps and opens up on the public with an AR-15. Instead, he was a hate preacher and hardened terrorist who should never have been allowed back on the streets.

Together with a band of jihadists from London, Cardiff and Stoke-on-Trent, Khan was sentenced in 2012 to an indeterminate stretch in prison for his role in a plot to bomb the London Stock Exchange. He had also preached radical Islam on the streets of Stoke,  planned to establish a terrorist training camp on family land in Kashmir, considered executing smaller attacks before the stock exchange hit and, though he was only 19 at the time of his arrest, was considered a “serious jihadi.”

In his sentencing remarks, Mr. Justice Wilkie said that the group were involved in a “serious, long-term venture in terrorism.” Wilkie noted that “these offenders would remain, even after a lengthy term of imprisonment, of such a significant risk that the public could not be adequately protected by their being managed on licence in the community.”


Yet just a year later, Khan’s sentence was fixed to 16 years behind bars. He served only seven of these years and was automatically released on licence (parole) in 2018, exactly as Judge Wilkie had warned against.

In a bitter twist of irony, Khan attended a ‘Learning Together’ conference in the hours leading up to his attack. Organized by academics from the University of Cambridge, the conference gave criminology students a chance to meet and chat with convicts, to learn more about  “stigma, marginalisation and the role of intergroup contact in reducing prejudice.” Khan had reportedly been invited to the conference by organisers.

Breaking stigmas and fighting marginalization is the kind of thing that event organizers Amy Ludlow and Ruth Armstrong tweeted excitedly about in the run-up to Friday’s conference. However, they have both since locked their Twitter accounts. 

Khan’s rampage began during a storytelling and creative writing workshop, and among his victims was Jack Merritt, a 25-year-old course coordinator. The man’s father described his son as “a beautiful spirit who always took the side of the underdog," while an associate hailed his "deep commitment to prisoner education and rehabilitation."

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Softening the punitive edges of the criminal justice system has been the goal of certain criminologists and commenters around the world for centuries. In the run-up to next month’s general election, advocacy organizations have even written to political leaders warning them not to stigmatize criminals by calling them names, and arguing for shorter sentences and “second chances” for offenders.

Society did not fail Khan and his co-conspirators. The band of jihadists chose to marginalize themselves, and willingly embraced their stigmatic identity as terrorists. Organizations like the Prison Reform Trust may wring their hands and fret over the social injustice of calling a criminal a criminal, but extremists willing to wipe out scores of innocent lives with high explosives are motivated by pathological hatred, and likely don’t give a toss what they’re called.

They’re also, in Khan’s case at least, proof that some criminals cannot be rehabilitated. Unlike a robber who, given the right opportunities, can be turned away from robbing, Khan viewed ordinary Britons as “kuffars” and “dogs,” and was bent on waging holy war against the country that gave his family a home, and him a shot at life in the civilized world.


And there’s more like him out there. Of the nine conspirators who were jailed in 2012, five are rumored to be out on parole, including Mo Chowdhury, referred to by Judge Wilkie as the “lynchpin of the group.” Tracking those down and reassuring the public they aren’t a threat should be the first order of business for the British government now that the failure with Khan has been made so tragically obvious.

Speaking before an emergency meeting on Friday night, Prime Minister Boris Johnson called it a “mistake to allow serious and violent criminals to come out of prison early,” and vowed to enforce “appropriate sentences for dangerous criminals.”

For those stabbed to death in cold blood on Friday and for their families, Johnson’s words came too late. For policymakers and law enforcement officials, the difficult but necessary questions that must now be asked are: is it fair to treat irreconcilable terrorists like ‘ordinary decent criminals’? And how can someone who fundamentally hates your civilization possibly be rehabilitated by its institutions?

By Graham Dockery, RT

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