UK Scrambles for Sentencing Reforms After Another Released Jihadist’s Stabbing Spree
Another Islamist terror attack in the United Kingdom is shining a glaring spotlight on the country’s failure to address the threat of recidivism by released terrorists.
Sudesh Amman, 20, stabbed two people Sunday afternoon on a busy South London street. Both victims are expected to recover. Amman was shot and killed by police.
He was released from prison just a week earlier, after serving about half of a 40-month prison sentence for a 2018 conviction on terror-related acts. He was in possession of jihadist literature, which included manuals on how to conduct deadly knife attacks. Sudesh had posted virulent antisemitic rants on social media. He also claimed raping women was sanctioned by the Quran.
Amman was placed on a watch list upon his release from prison and wore an electronic monitor. Despite those measures, and surveillance by up to 30 counter-terrorism officers, he was still able to steal a knife from a store before launching his stabbing spree in the Streatham section of South London.
He also wore a fake suicide bomb vest. The Islamic State claimed that Amman was one of its fighters.
The attack bore striking similarities to a deadly rampage two months earlier. In that attack, recently-released terrorist Usman Khan killed two people and wounded several others in a knife attack near London Bridge. Khan was also wearing a faux suicide vest, and like Amman, wore an electronic monitoring device.
In the aftermath of the latest attack, there has been a public outcry to change UK sentencing laws and the rules for prison release of convicted terrorists.
Some of the proposed changes include requiring that convicted terrorists serve at least two-thirds of their sentence, instead of half, and holding terrorists until their full sentence is served unless the entire Parole Board agrees on the potential parolee’s successful rehabilitation.
But Khan was considered rehabilitated before his killing spree.
In Amman’s case, post-release conditions included surrendering his passport and limited use of cell phones and the Internet.
No one has determined how to prove when a terrorist is successfully rehabilitated. But some criminals seem to know what prison authorities want to hear. One former UK inmate said that he knew of Muslim inmates who never drank joining an Alcoholics Anonymous program to gain the extra privileges awarded to those who participate in prison rehabilitation programs.
Usman Khan feigned de-radicalization and was released. The result was deadly.
We know that terrorists do not fear prison time. For many, it emboldens their commitment to jihad, and often they are the catalysts in recruiting and radicalizing other inmates to their twisted beliefs.
Despite the outcry for change, amending the sentences of those already in custody may prove difficult. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson acknowledges that changes in law generally do not apply retroactively, so existing prisoners could be exempt.
And yet, the list of other convicted terrorists about to have their prison cell door opened grows. Up to a dozen are ready to walk out of jail in as little as three months.
Here in the United States, we have also seen the early release of convicted terrorists like John Walker Lindh and Kevin James.
James’ post-release behavior and social media activity showed that he is neither rehabilitated nor de-radicalized. Placing stringent post release conditions on released terrorists requires the US Attorney’s Office and the US Probation Office to submit their request to the court for approval. The parolee is then given the opportunity to challenge those conditions.
Time off for good behavior is granted to every inmate regardless of the crime committed. This should not be the case with those who have embraced a radical ideology that seeks to kill unbelievers and destroy democracy.
Only released sex offenders are placed on a national registry; released terrorists are simply released into the community.
Legislation sponsored last spring by US Senators Tom Cotton (R-AR), and Richard Shelby (R-AL), would deny early release for convicted terrorists. But no action has been taken on the bill since it was referred to the Judiciary Committee.
We have been fortunate not to see deadly attacks by jihadists after their release from prison in the US. But the failure to act now could change that.
We must decide on the primary goal of our counter terrorism policies — rehabilitation/de-
Taking the chance of recidivism by pseudo-rehabilitated terrorists is like throwing loaded dice in Vegas. Sooner or later, you roll snake-eyes.
The public deserves better.
IPT Senior Fellow Patrick Dunleavy is the former Deputy Inspector General for New York State Department of Corrections and author of The Fertile Soil of Jihad. He currently lectures a class on terrorism for the United States Air Force’s Special Operations School.
A version of this article was originally commissioned by The Investigative Project on Terrorism.