British home secretary Priti Patel (Reuters)
LONDON: The threat from “lone actors” is growing, British home secretary Priti Patel warned on Monday as she visited the scene of the terror attack in the southern English city of Reading where three people were killed in a knife attack.
Addressing the MPs in the House of Commons, the senior Indian-origin minister praised the bravery of unarmed police officers who tackled and arrested the 25-year-old Libyan suspect, Khairi Saadallah, after he stabbed three people to death in a busy park in Reading on Saturday evening.
“It is clear the threat by lone actors is growing. These terrorists are united by the same vile hate for what our country holds dear. Decency, tolerance and respect,” Patel said in the Parliament.
“The UK‘s counter-terrorism strategy remains one of the most comprehensive approaches to countering terrorism in the world. But we have all too often seen the results of poisonous extremist ideology. The terrorist threat that we face is complex, diverse and rapidly changing,” she said.
The minister said her visit to the scene of the terror attack in Berkshire, around 42 miles from London, was a “truly humbling” meeting with the local Thames Valley police, whose officers disarmed the suspect before arresting him in Forbury Gardens in Reading.
“I had the privilege of meeting the officers who first responded to the incident and who were responsible for apprehending the suspect as well as trying to prevent the further loss of life. These officers, a few of whom were student officers, ran towards danger to help those in need without a second thought,” she said in her tribute to the officers.
“A young, unarmed police officer took down the suspect without hesitation while another performed emergency first aid to those who were injured. These officers are heroes. They showed courage, bravery and selflessness way beyond their years. They are the very best of us,” she said.
“I would also like to pay tribute to the response of every emergency service that attended the scene as well as members of the public who stepped in to prevent further loss of life,” she added.
The home minister insisted that “justice will be done” and that the government “we will not hesitate” to act where required.
During her visit to Reading earlier on Monday, Patel paid floral tributes to the three “innocent victims” who were killed as they enjoyed a sunny day in the park. Highlighting that she was “very constricted and constrained” in what she could say about the ongoing investigation into the attack, the minister said the entire history of the detained suspect, believed to be a Libyan asylum seeker living in Britain, will be looked into.
“We have to look at all aspects of this individual’s history, which dates back over several years,” she said, in reference to media reports that the arrested suspect had been on the radar of the MI5 intelligence service for feared extremist activity last year.
The minister also reiterated the need for continued public vigilance as the strict stay-at-home lockdown measures in place to control the spread of Covid-19 are gradually eased further.
She said: “As measures around social distancing and lockdown are eased and more people are out and about, of course we have to make sure we are vigilant, we’re alert and we’re mindful of the environments we are going into.
“What I would say, though, is policing and the security services throughout this whole Covid-19 epidemic – the last 13/14 weeks – they’ve been working in an incredibly integrated way. I’ve been seeing their work day in and day out.”