American among victims in Reading park terror attack

An American man was one of three people stabbed to death in a suspected terrorist attack in a Reading park.

US ambassador to the UK Woody Johnson condemned the atrocity after the victim was named locally as Joe Ritchie-Bennett.

The 25-year-old suspect is understood to be Khairi Saadallah, a refugee of the civil war in Libya who briefly came to the attention of MI5 last year.

Saadallah, who is thought to have been released from prison earlier this month, was held close to the scene at Forbury Gardens on Saturday night and arrested on suspicion of murder.

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A police officer standing guard on Sunday outside the corridor of a top-floor flat in Basingstoke Road, Reading, where the suspect in the Forbury Gardens stabbings was detained. The suspect in the Reading stabbings is a Libyan asylum seeker and mental health is being considered a major factor in the incident, a security source has told the PA news agency.
A woman places some flowers at the Abbey gateway of Forbury Gardens in Reading town centre following a multiple stabbing attack in the gardens which took place at around 7pm on Saturday leaving three people dead and another three seriously injured.
Police at the Abbey gateway of Forbury Gardens in Reading town centre following a multiple stabbing attack in the gardens which took place at around 7pm on Saturday leaving three people dead and another three seriously injured.
A message left on some flowers at the Abbey gateway of Forbury Gardens in Reading town centre following a multiple stabbing attack in the gardens which took place at around 7pm on Saturday leaving three people dead and another three seriously injured.
Police at the Abbey gateway of Forbury Gardens in Reading town centre following a multiple stabbing attack in the gardens which took place at around 7pm on Saturday leaving three people dead and another three seriously injured.
Police near an entrance to Forbury Gardens in Reading town centre following a multiple stabbing attack in the gardens which took place at around 7pm on Saturday leaving three people dead and another three seriously injured.
Flowers and a message left at the Abbey gateway of Forbury Gardens in Reading town centre following a multiple stabbing attack in the gardens which took place at around 7pm on Saturday leaving three people dead and another three seriously injured.
Police at the Abbey gateway of Forbury Gardens in Reading town centre following a multiple stabbing attack in the gardens which took place at around 7pm on Saturday leaving three people dead and another three seriously injured.
Forensic officers at Forbury Gardens in Reading town centre where they are responding to a "serious incident"
Armed police officers at a block of flats off the Basingstoke Rd in Reading after an incident at Forbury Gardens in Reading town centre.
Emergency services at a block of flats off the Basingstoke Rd in Reading after an incident at Forbury Gardens in Reading town centre.
Police at Forbury Gardens in Reading town centre where they are responding to a "serious incident"
Emergency services at Forbury Gardens in Reading town centre where they are responding to a "serious incident"
Police at Forbury Gardens in Reading town centre where they are responding to a "serious incident"
Police at Forbury Gardens in Reading town centre where they are responding to a "serious incident"
Police near Forbury Gardens in Reading town centre where they are responding to a "serious incident"
Police at Forbury Gardens in Reading town centre where they are responding to a "serious incident"
Police at Forbury Gardens in Reading town centre where they are responding to a "serious incident"
Police at Forbury Gardens in Reading town centre where they are responding to a "serious incident"
Armed police officers at a block of flats off the Basingstoke Rd in Reading after an incident at Forbury Gardens in Reading town centre.
Armed police officers at a block of flats off the Basingstoke Rd in Reading after an incident at Forbury Gardens in Reading town centre.
Armed police officers at a block of flats off Basingstoke Rd in Reading after an incident at Forbury Gardens in Reading town centre.
Armed police officers at a block of flats off Basingstoke Rd in Reading after an incident at Forbury Gardens in Reading town centre.
An armed police officer at a block of flats off Basingstoke Rd in Reading after an incident at Forbury Gardens in Reading town centre.
Armed police officers at a block of flats off Basingstoke Rd in Reading after an incident at Forbury Gardens in Reading town centre.
TOPSHOT - Floral tributes are seen at a police cordon at the Abbey Gateway near Forbury Gardens park in Reading, west of London, on June 21, 2020 following a fatal stabbing incident the previous day. - British police said Sunday they were treating a stabbing spree in which a lone assailant killed three people in a park filled with families and friends in the southern English city of Reading as a "terrorism incident". (Photo by Ben STANSALL / AFP) (Photo by BEN STANSALL/AFP via Getty Images)
READING, ENGLAND - JUNE 21: A view of the outside of the top floor of a block of flats on the Basingstoke Road on June 21, 2020 in Reading, England. A lone attacker targeted groups of people socialising in Forbury Gardens stabbing them in the neck in what police are treating as a terror incident. Three people have died and three more who were injured are in a serious condition. Officers from Counter Terrorism Policing South East (CTSPE) raided a block of flats in the city last night. A 25-year-old male Libyan National is in police custody. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Police officers secure a police cordon at the Abbey Gateway near Forbury Gardens park in Reading, west of London, on June 21, 2020 following a stabbing incident the previous day. - British police said Sunday they were keeping an open mind about what prompted a lone suspect to stab three people to death in a park filled with families and friends relaxing in the southern English city of Reading. (Photo by Ben STANSALL / AFP) (Photo by BEN STANSALL/AFP via Getty Images)
READING, ENGLAND - JUNE 21: Flowers are left at an entrance to Forbury Gardens for the victims of the stabbing attack on June 21, 2020 in Reading, England. A lone attacker targeted groups of people socialising in Forbury Gardens stabbing them in the neck in what police are treating as a terror incident. Three people have died and three more injured and are in serious condition. Officers from Counter Terrorism Policing South East (CTSPE) raided a block of flats in the city last night. A 25-year-old male Libyan National is in police custody. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Forensic officers at Forbury Gardens in Reading town centre where they are responding to a "serious incident" (Photo by Steve Parsons/PA Images via Getty Images)
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He was later re-arrested under Section 41 of the Terrorism Act, which gives powers to detain him without charge for up to 14 days, and police have said they are not looking for anyone else in connection with the attack.

The Mayor of Reading, councillor David Stevens, said a minute's silence would be held at 10am on Monday for the victims and their families, while flags on civic buildings will be flown at half-mast for the rest of the week.

Forbury Gardens incident
Flowers are placed at the entrance to the Holt School, Wokingham (Steve Parsons/PA)

Students at the Holt School in Wokingham, will light candles and lay flowers in memory of teacher James Furlong, 36, named as another victims in the attack.

Former pupil Molly Collins, who left the school in 2017, told the Radio 4 Today programme: "He was such a loved teacher.

"I can't find anyone that ever had a bad word to say about him, and to hear that it was him is just so, so sad."

The US ambassador confirmed an American citizen was one of those killed, adding: "We condemn the attack absolutely and have offered our assistance to British law enforcement."

According to tributes posted on social media, Mr Ritchie-Bennett was friends with Mr Furlong, and his Facebook page said he was originally from Philadelphia in Pennsylvania, but had been living in Reading.

The Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper reported that he was 39 and had moved to England from the US around 15 years ago.

Two people injured in the attack remain in hospital, while one has now been discharged.

The PA news agency understands from security sources that MI5 had received intelligence Saadallah planned to travel abroad, possibly for terrorism purposes, but the threat was found to be insubstantial and the information provided did not meet the threshold of investigation.

Former head of UK counter terrorism Sir Mark Rowley said police and security services face a "wicked problem" deciding which of the 40,000 people known to them could launch a terror attack.

Forbury Gardens incident
Police tents in Forbury Gardens in Reading town centre (PA)

The former assistant commissioner for specialist operations in the Metropolitan Police, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme there are about 3,000 people under investigation at any one time but around 40,000 "whose names have touched the system".

He said: "And in that 40,000 are lots of volatile people who dip in and out of interests in extreme ideology, and to spot one of those who is going to go from a casual interest into a determined attacker, which can happen in a matter of days, is the most wicked problem that the services face."

Security Minister James Brokenshire told BBC Breakfast that there was no indication of a change to the UK's threat level.

As counter-terror officers investigate, mental health is understood to be considered a major factor in the Reading attack.

The suspect was jailed in October for a string of non-terror offences before his sentence was reduced to one of 17 months and 20 days' imprisonment in the Court of Appeal.

Forbury Gardens incident
A police officer standing guard on Sunday outside the corridor of a top-floor flat in Basingstoke Road, Reading, where the suspect was detained (Ben Mitchell/PA)

One of the appeal judges who gave the judgment in March, Mr Justice Goss, noted Saadallah's various mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder and personality disorder, in reducing the sentence.

The offences included affray, assault by beating, assaulting an emergency worker, criminal damage and a racially aggravated assault involving a police officer.

The officer described the November 2018 attack as being "the vilest thing she had been subjected to as a police officer" after he spat in her face and called her a "slave" when he was being detained under the Mental Health Act, according to the appeal judgment.

Saadallah was released from prison earlier this month, it is understood, and the Covid-19 pandemic played no part in the decision to free him.

The Sun reported that he left HMP Bullingdon, Oxfordshire, 17 days ago after less than half of his sentence.

I'm appalled and sickened that people should lose their lives in this way. Our thoughts are with the families and friends of the victims.

Thank you to Thames Valley Police for their bravery in tackling the suspect. pic.twitter.com/BWgyODoIWM

— Boris Johnson #StayAlert (@BorisJohnson) June 21, 2020

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was "appalled and sickened" by the incident and said "we will not hesitate to take action" if there are lessons to be learned from the circumstances.

Security guard Sydney McDonald, 65, who saw suspect being rugby-tackled to the ground by police described how it looked as if he had put his hands "in a big bucket of red paint".

He told the PA news agency: "I had just finished work at about 7.10pm and as soon as I came out of the shop, there were about four police cars, they turned around in the middle of the road, they were driving pretty fast.

Map locates stabbing in Reading
(PA Graphics)

"There was a guy and I saw him pointing to a man and saying 'There he is, there he is'. If he hadn't, they would have missed him. He was running really fast, properly fast.

"They put the emergency brakes on, jumped out of the car and rugby-tackled him to the floor. He was on his stomach and the blood on his hands looked like he had put his hand in a big bucket of red paint.

"They put the handcuffs on, he wasn't putting up a fight or anything like that, they picked him up and put him in the van, he just sat there all quiet, he wasn't saying nothing."

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