The Islamist extremist who stabbed three men to death and wounded three more in a one-minute stabbing spree came under the influence of a notorious preacher in prison, a court has heard.
Khairi Saadallah, 26, pleaded guilty to three counts of murder and three of attempted murder in November following the attacks in Forbury Gardens, Reading last summer, but denies having a terrorist motive.
However, the Old Bailey heard that Saadallah served with an outlawed Islamist militia in Libya and had been refused asylum eight years earlier but was not removed from the country because of ‘legal barriers’ despite a string of criminal convictions.
A sentencing hearing was told that Saadallah once served a sentence alongside Omar Brooks, a convert also known as Abu Izzadeen.
The pair were said to have been in HMP Bullingdon together in January 2017 when they attended Friday prayers and went to the gym together.
Khairi Saadallah, 26, pleaded guilty to three counts of murder and three of attempted murder in November following the attacks in Forbury Gardens, Reading last summer, but denies having a terrorist motive
Saadallah bragged about his access to weapons such as these, pictured, before carrying out the attack last June
The Old Bailey heard that Saadallah served with an outlawed Islamist militia in Libya and had been refused asylum eight years earlier but was not removed from the country because of ‘legal barriers’ despite a string of criminal convictions
James Furlong, David Wails and Joseph Ritchie-Bennett were with friends sitting in Forbury Gardens in Reading on June 20 last year because their local pub, the Blagrave Arms, had been shut during lockdown.
Alison Morgan QC, prosecuting said the three men were ‘enjoying being able to be together on a summer’s evening in the park, as the restrictions of the first lockdown were relaxed when shortly before 7pm, they were murdered in a brutal attack by the defendant, Khairi Saadallah.’
‘In less than a minute, shouting the words ‘Allahu Akhbar’ [god is the greatest] 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, Saadallah went on to attack others nearby, stabbing three more people Stephen Young, Patrick Edwards and Nishit Nisudan, causing them significant injuries.
Mr Morgan said Saadallah was ‘ruthlessly efficient in his actions’, adding: ‘The prosecution’s case is that the attack perpetrated by this 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 extremist ideology. An extremist ideology that 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.’
Ms Morgan described Brooks as a ‘prominent radical preacher’ associated with the proscribed terrorist organisation al-Muhajiroun, a group ‘promoting extremist Islamic ideology in the UK,’
Brooks had been convicted of terrorist funding offences in the past and was in prison in 2017 as a result of breaching a travel ban imposed on him as a result of his earlier terrorist convictions.
He had turned up in Hungary alongside another associate and was suspected of attempting to travel to Syria to join ISIS.
A sentencing hearing at the Old Bailey was told that a prison officer at HMP Bullingdon observed that Saadallah was ‘keen to talk to and associate with’ Brooks whilst they were in custody together.
Saadallah was described by the officer as being ‘impressionable and volatile’ and was observed regularly attending Friday prayers and the gym with Brooks.
Ms Morgan said Saadallah’s desire to associate with a known extremist in 2017 was ‘significant’ because it ‘indicates that the extremist ideology that he was exposed to in Libya in 2011 remained of interest to him in 2017, three years before the attacks in this case.’
In 2017, he was in jail at HMP Bullingdon at the same time as the prominent radical preacher Omar Brooks, who is associated with the banned terrorist organisation Al-Muhajiroun. Ms Morgan said that Saadallah was observed to be keen to associate with Brooks and was ‘impressionable and volatile’
History teacher James Furlong, pictured left, and scientist David Wails, pictured right, were two of the men fatally stabbed
US citizen Joseph Ritchie-Bennett, pictured, was also fatally stabbed in the attacks in Forbury Gardens, Reading last summer
The hearing was also told that Saadallah was from Tripoli in Libya and first arrived in Britain at the beginning of April 2012 after applying for a visitor’s visa at the British Embassy in Tunisia.
The six-month visa, which lasted until September 28 2012, included conditions that he did not work or have any recourse to public funds and the visa was only valid if he was accompanied by his father.
He returned to Libya in July 2012, before returning to Britain again in October 2012 and applying for asylum.
In Home Office interviews on November 9 and 12 he claimed he had been involved with the militias who had been part of the uprising against Gadaffi between February 14 2011, when he was 16, and October.
Along with his father, he claimed to have been part of a group called Ansar Al-Sharia, an Islamist militia which has been proscribed as a terrorist organisation by the British government.
Although images were later found of him with firearms, he claimed he had only ‘helped wounded people and with delivering weapons and other things to the war fields…plus guarded some hospitals.’
In the images, Saadallah is seen wearing military fatigues and holding firearms in vehicles and on the street. There were also images of a small handgun next to bullets arranged into a letter ‘K’ for ‘Khairi.’
Saadallah was refused asylum on December 6 2012 by which time he was staying in Manchester.
He lodged an appeal, which was dismissed on February 8 2013 when his account of events in Libya, in particular as to the necessity for him to flee the extremist group that he had previously associated with, was not accepted by the tribunal.
‘Thereafter, the Home Office records indicated that he had absconded from temporary admission to this country,’ Ms Morgan said.
On June 29 2013, he ‘came to the attention of the authorities again’ and it was then understood that he would engage in voluntary removal from the country but by 2014, he ‘stopped cooperating’ with his voluntary removal back to Libya.
Saadallah’s immigration status continued to be reviewed and in 2018, he was eventually granted ‘leave to remain’ in the country until 2023.
Aftermath: Police tents pictured in Forbury Gardens after the Reading attack in June this year
However, in 2019 he was informed that if he came to ‘adverse notice’ again, deportation would be considered and during the course of that year, Saadallah was convicted of criminal offences in January and March 2019 which prompted a review of his case by the Home Office.
On June 4 2020, two weeks before the attack, and while Saadallah was still in HMP Bullingdon, he was notified that the Home Office had determined that his deportation was in the ‘public good’ but the Home Secretary was not going to take steps to deport the defendant at that time because of a ‘legal barrier’ preventing him from being deported.
Ms Morgan said the legal barrier was ‘simply the circumstances as they existed in Libya at that time.’
He was released from HMP Bullingdon the next day and subject to licence conditions including to attend treatment for mental health and alcohol issues.
He was said to have had ‘relatively limited possessions’ in his flat on Basingstoke Road in Reading, but his possessions included some paperwork in Arabic handwriting,
The writing appeared to relate to Saadallah’s uncle’s death in Tripoli and referred to ‘torture before death’ and holding ‘the snakes’ responsible.
The handwritten notes included the words: ‘We will be free and carry out Jihad and ask my Lord God that when I hold the arm, tears of joy will come down about the Hoor-al-ayn [the Virgins of Paradise] that will be happily waiting for me.’
On June 5, Saadallah was released from HMP Bullingdon – just 15 days before the killings.
He carried out a reconnaissance of the park where he launched the attack which was caught on CCTV played to the court,
Ms Morgan added: ‘It is notable that the defendant was considering Forbury Gardens in the days before the attack. He would have known that the park was important and significant locally. The statue of the lion was used as an emblem for Reading.
‘On 17 June at 7.32am the defendant conducted an internet search (in Arabic) for ‘Witchcraft definition and types and effects’.
‘He walked to the vicinity of Forbury Gardens. CCTV footage shows him going into the gardens, looking around… this was reconnaissance.
‘He explored the park and the pathways around it, the exits, and the area near to the church, where he spent some time on 17 June. By the end of this visit, the defendant knew the area very well.
‘Later on 17 June, the defendant accessed a website that led to an image of the Twin Towers being cached onto his device.’
Doctors who assessed the killer on release noted his mental state was ‘unremarkable’ and any change in mood could be explained by his cannabis habit.
The conclusions came in stark contrast to unfounded claims made by his siblings that he had ‘abnormalities’ in his mental health, the court heard.
Meanwhile, chilling footage of the killer greeting police and asking: ‘I’m not in trouble am I?’ while he hid the knife just a day before the attack was played in court today.
Striking up a friendly conversation during the home visit, an officer can be heard asking: ‘What’s going on lad?’ while the killer stood in front of a bag.
After his brother voiced concerns about his well-being, police went to check up on him at his home in Basingstoke Road on 19 June.
Bodyworn cameras caught Saadallah moving towards a corner of the room and standing in front of the bag which contained the blade as they chatted with him.
The triple killer was heard saying: ‘I’m not in trouble am I?’ – at which point a policeman laughed and said ‘No.’
Saadallah dismissed questions about his mental state and was ‘keen to reassure officers and get them to go,’ the prosecutor said.
Other clips showed Saadallah withdrawing cash wearing black gloves and chatting with neighbours in the hours leading up to the attack.
Wearing a Union Jack bandana tied around his left knee on his way to carry out the atrocity, he passed by a woman in a wheelchair who he handed a Holy Bible.
Remaining ‘placid and polite,’ the killer said something along the lines of: ‘Here is something about a better or good life’ before setting off for the park.
Ms Morgan went on: ‘As he got to the door to the block of flats, Charmaine Harper and her sister were near to the door, trying to navigate exiting the address with a wheelchair.
‘The defendant, who Ms Harper described as placid and polite, handed her the two books that he was carrying: a copy of the Holy Bible and a youth bible.
‘As he did, he said something along the lines of ‘Here is something about a better or good life’.
‘Knowing what he was about to do, the defendant was passing on his religious texts to another.’
Saadallah then walked into a takeaway restaurant and bought himself a bottle of water before donating his spare change to Islamic charity boxes by the till.
The minute-long knife attack was likened to ‘a game of duck duck goose’ in horrific first-hand accounts given by friends of the murder victims.
CCTV footage from a nearby churchyard showed Saadallah running round the park trying to kill ‘as many people as he could’ with the blade, the court heard.
As park-goers enjoyed the sun, he charged towards the first group so suddenly that they only clocked onto the attack when it was too late.
Harrowing witness statements described how one of the victims dropped to the floor ‘like a tree being felled’ and others were slashed in their neck and face.
Saadallah was seen running up to victims and ‘hugging’ them from behind while stabbing them in the neck.
Initially he was spotted ‘strolling normally’ before screaming ‘Alllahu Akhbar’ and carrying out the attack with ‘precision’ and ‘speed,’ it was said.
The hearing continues this afternoon when 999 calls made during the ‘chaos’ and ‘panic’ in the park will be played to the court.
The sentencing before Mr Justice Sweeney is expected to go on for two to three days.
The Home Office has been approached for comment on attempts to deport Saadallah.