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Crime

Reading attack terrorist who stabbed three gay men to death jailed for whole life

Nick Duffy January 11, 2021
Khairi Saadallah wearing a black cap backwards

Khairi Saadallah stabbed to death three gay men in a Reading park.

Khairi Saadallah, the terrorist who killed three gay men in the Reading terror attack, has been jailed for the remainder of his life.

Saadallah, 26, admitted three charges of murder and three charges of attempted murder after a knife rampage in Reading’s Forbury Gardens in June 2020.

The three men killed in the attack – James Furlong, David Wails and Joseph Ritchie-Bennett – were all beloved members of the local LGBT+ community who had been in the park with a group of friends.

Their friend Stephen Young was also injured, as well as another pair who had been nearby, Patrick Edwards and Nishit Nisudan.

Saadallah, who was born in Libya and was granted asylum in the UK in 2018, had previous convictions for violent and criminal offences and had been released from prison just weeks before the attack. He was known to security service MI5 over suspected links to terror groups.

At the Old Bailey on Monday (11 January), Mr Justice Sweeney made Saadallah subject to a whole life order, a sentence that means he will spend the rest of his life behind bars with no prospect of release.

The justice told him: “I have no doubt that this is a rare and exceptional case in which just punishment requires you must be kept in prison for the rest of your life.”

He noted the victims were “doing nothing more than sitting in gardens,” adding: “His attack on them was so swift, ruthless and brutal that none of them had any chance to react, let alone to defend themselves.”

Passing the sentence, Mr Justice Sweeney said that the premeditated attack was carried out “for the purpose of advancing a political, religious, or ideological cause”, which is the legal definition of terrorism under UK law.

Reading attack murderer denied terror.

Prosecutors had sought a sentencing of life without parole, arguing the killings were a terror attack, but Khairi Saadallah denied a terror motive.

During the knife attack, the defendant was heard to shout words to the effect of “Allahu akbar”. He was arrested minutes after the rampage, after an off-duty police officer called 999.

Reading attack: Khairi Saadallah, 26, has admitted three charges of murder and three charges of attempted murder
Khairi Saadallah, 26, has admitted three charges of murder and three charges of attempted murder

Saadallah claimed he had only a “fleeting or occasional interest” in Islamist extremism and described himself as “part Muslim and part Catholic”.

“The defendant believed that in carrying out this attack he was acting in pursuit of his extremist ideology,” claimed prosecutor Alison Morgan QC.

“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.”

She added: “The defendant was aiming to inflict the maximum amount of damage in the shortest possible time to allow him to kill as many people as possible.

“In effect, the killings of Joseph Ritchie-Bennett, David Wails and James Furlong were highly effective executions.”

Reading attack victims remembered by  families and LGBT+ community.

The city’s LGBT+ community was devastated by the news that three of its own had been murdered in the attack, with Reading Pride raising thousands to help cover funeral expenses for grieving loved ones, as well as to build a permanent memorial for the victims.

James Furlong was a school teacher, described by friends as a “proud gay man who wanted equality for all”.

Joe Ritchie-Bennett was a “brilliant and loving” American who had lost his husband to cancer just over five years ago. David Wails was a scientist who always “made people smile”.

Reading attack: Joe Ritchie-Bennett, David Wails and James Furlong were killed in the knife rampage
Joe Ritchie-Bennett, David Wails and James Furlong were killed in the knife rampage

The Wails family said: “We would like to thank those people who helped in the immediate aftermath of the horrific events in the park last June. The members of the public who tried to help save the lives of those attacked; the paramedics, the ambulance service and the police officers who all assisted at the scene.

“We would also like to thank the people of Reading, including the LGBT community, for the outpouring of love and support they have shown us and the other families of those involved.

“We would like to say a huge thank you to the police who have worked tirelessly to ensure that justice would be done for David, James, Joe, and the other three victims in this case.”

The city's LGBT+ community was devastated by the news that three of its own had been murdered in the attack
The city’s LGBT+ community was devastated by the news that three of its own had been murdered in the attack (Thames Valley Police)

The Bennett family added: “Joe was a devoted and loving husband, a man who cared strongly about family. His generosity, warmth and laughter afforded him countless friends with whom memories are shared.

“Sadly the events that took place in Forbury Gardens cut short Joe’s right to a full and vibrant life. He will always be loved and never forgotten.”

Tributes to teacher James Furlong outside the school where he taught
Tributes to teacher James Furlong outside the school where he taught

Stephen Young, who was injured in the attack, said the loss of his three friends “has left a huge hole in my life.”

He said: “When we met up on the 20 June, it was the first time in months we had seen each other due to the coronavirus lockdown. We were just going to sit in the sunshine, have some drinks together and enjoy some music.

“Dave and I had been friends for more than 20 years, we used to play pool and talk about football together. I especially miss him coming over for a beer. He was a really good friend, as were Joe and James. They were all such lovely people, they would greet you with a hug and a smile.

“I’m also so grateful to my other friends, who also went through this horrific experience. I believe they saved my life that day, by shouting a warning at the critical moment, and I feel I can never thank them enough for what they did.”

Reading Pride said: “With the tragic loss of life, the sentencing today may help provide closure to help start the healing process within our community.

“We continue to urge the prime minister, central and local government along with support organisations to work together and implement future safeguards to help prevent this from happening again.

“We confirm our commitment to work with the Reading community to remember Joe, James and David. Our thoughts go out to the families, friends and colleagues during this difficult time.”

Attack ’caused unspeakable hurt and distress’

Detective Chief Superintendent Kath Barnes, head of Counter Terrorism Policing South East, said: “Saadallah is a committed jihadist and was intent on killing as many people as he could on that sunny summer’s evening in June.

“As the evidence has shown, Saadallah planned this attack in meticulous detail. The men he killed were not just murdered, they were executed at such a speed, they had very little chance to react or defend themselves.

“The horrors of this incident took just a single minute to unfold. It took him less than 10 seconds to kill three innocent men, and he then went on to attack and tried to kill another three men before running off towards the town centre.

“In that tiny timeframe, he changed the lives of all those involved forever.

“He has caused unspeakable hurt and distress to the families of the three men who were brutally murdered as they were relaxing and enjoying socialising with friends on a Saturday evening. I’m sure there will also be lasting effects on those who were injured in the attack, who were fortunate not to have been even more seriously harmed.

“The scene for other people in the busy park at the time of this incident was horrendous and I must pay tribute to the many people who assisted with giving first aid and who have subsequently provided important evidence as part of our investigation.

“The details heard during this hearing will undoubtedly have been distressing for the families of the victims and survivors and I extend my sincere thanks to each and every one of them for their unwavering support throughout this investigation.”

More: Khairi Saadallah, police, reading

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