A play written by Usman Khan that foretold parts of his Fishmongers’ Hall atrocity was deemed ‘creative writing’ and did not give security services cause for concern, a senior MI5 official has said.
The script, entitled Drive North, was written while 28-year-old Khan was serving eight years in prison for planning a terror training camp in his parents’ homeland of Pakistan, and was passed on to MI5 in early 2019.
Within the plot, Khan wrote of a protagonist who had been treated in a secure prison unit, before being released and going on to commit a series of murders with a knife.
Convicted terrorist Khan would later go on to claim the lives of Cambridge graduates Saskia Jones, 23, and Jack Merritt, 25, and injured three other people at a prisoner education event in London on November 29, 2019.
His play was written as part of rehabilitative learning courses while he served his sentence, and those monitoring Khan within MI5 dismissed his work as simply a piece of ‘creative writing’.
Speaking at an inquest today, a senior MI5 officer, known as Witness A for legal reasons, said the foreshadowing play did not necessarily mean Khan ‘may re-engage in terrorist activity.’
West Midlands Police picture of terrorist Usman Khan, 28, who launched London attack
Jack Merritt, 25, and Saskia Jones, 23, were both killed in London by terrorist Usman Khan
The senior MI5 official also claimed the security service could not have prevented the Fishmongers’ Hall attack – despite knowing Khan wanted to ‘die and go to paradise’.
Khan, from Stafford, who launched his attack on Jones and Merritt by strapping knives to his hands and wearing a fake suicide belt, was later shot dead by police after being chased on to London Bridge.
At an Guildhall inquest into the deaths today, it was revealed that Khan had penned a piece of fiction that had been passed onto MI5 in early 2019.
The counter-intelligence agency dismissed the work as a piece of ‘creative work’ – while it was also revealed the security service had considered stopping their investigation into him at the time he committed his attack.
Witness A told the inquests: ‘At the time we received it in early 2019, they (the MI5 investigation team) saw it as very much part of the literature he had been producing.
‘He (Khan) had been undertaking literature courses as part of his rehabilitation.
‘It didn’t give them cause for concern or add or detract from the united picture – that Khan may re-engage in terrorist activity.’
The joint operations team (JOT), which involved MI5, Staffordshire Police Special Branch and West Midlands Police counter-terrorism unit, met in the days prior to Khan’s attack on November 29, 2019 after its 11-month investigation following his release from prison failed to yield any real cause for concern.
It was felt that Khan’s attendance at the Learning Together event in Fishmongers’ Hall would give the team an opportunity to increase ‘coverage’ of him and to assess whether closing the active investigation into him was appropriate.
Giving evidence to the inquests from behind a screen, a senior MI5 official known only as Witness A explained there had been no intelligence of concern since his release from prison in December 2018.
She said JOT assessed that Khan wanted to travel to Pakistan when his licence conditions ended, which would not be for several years, and heard that he was no longer going to the gym or the mosque regularly.
Police said he had ‘significantly withdrawn’ from society since moving into his own flat in September 2019.
Witness A said the JOT panel members saw the Fishmongers’ Hall visit as ‘an opportunity to get information’ on Khan before deciding whether to close their investigation into him.
Khan had been allowed to attend the Learning Together prisoner education event despite concerns that he would return to his old ways upon his release from prison 11 months earlier.
But Witness A said a review found the attack could not have been prevented.
She said the security service first became aware of Khan in 2008, as a member of terror group al-Muhajiroun (ALM).
He was linked to a plot to attack the London Stock Exchange and jailed for planning a terror camp abroad.
The officer, who gave evidence from behind a screen, said MI5 was aware that Khan had been involved in violence in prison.
Jonathan Hough QC, counsel for the coroner, asked: ‘Was there also evidence he wanted to die and go to paradise?’
Witness A replied: ‘There was information to that effect.’
Victim Saskia Jones sat alongside Usman Khan at the London prisoner rehabilitation event
Jurors were told that Khan had retained contact with his co-defendants and other terrorists outside prison.
But, in 2015, MI5 took the decision to close its investigation into him.
Asked whether, in hindsight, she feels that was the right decision, Witness A replied: ‘I do. We had carried out quite a significant period of investigation while he was in prison, we received a steady stream of intelligence while in prison, and we saw no activities of national security concern, therefore it was the right time to close the investigation.’
She added: ‘We cannot investigate people forever.’
The witness told the court that MI5’s review after the Fishmongers’ Hall attack concluded that it ‘could not have taken any actions or materially changed the outcomes of this case.
‘The investigative and operational decisions taken by MI5 in this case were sound.’
The inquests into Ms Jones and Mr Merritt’s deaths continue.