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Anjem Choudary's licence under 'urgent' review in wake of London Bridge attack

Usman Khan (right), who spoke alongside Anjem Choudary (centre) at a conference on Sharia law organised by Ahl Sunnah Wal Jumah at Cobridge Community Centre in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, on March 15, 2009
Usman Khan (right), who spoke alongside Anjem Choudary (centre) at a conference on Sharia law organised by Ahl Sunnah Wal Jumah at Cobridge Community Centre in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffs, on March 15, 2009 Credit: Stoke Sentinel

Anjem Choudary, Britain’s most notorious hate cleric, will be subjected to even tighter controls, The Telegraph has learnt, after a photograph emerged of him standing side-by-side with the London Bridge terrorist.

Well-placed sources said Choudary’s licencing conditions were now under urgent review as part of a crackdown on 67 jihadist terrorists freed from jail and living in the community.

Boris Johnson on Monday night called for an overhaul of the system that enabled Usman Khan to be released automatically from prison half way through his sentence and a year before going on the rampage.

The Prime Minister said: “You have to be realistic and what you must not have is a system of automatic early release, and it was the automaticity that I’m afraid let us down here, because in the end the law had no choice but to let him out and then to hope that things would turn out well.

“I don’t think that was a reasonable expectation given what we knew about him.”

In the latest crackdown, a jihadist convicted of trying to join Islamic State in Syria in 2015 was sent back to jail for an extra two years on Monday for hiding a mobile phone from counter-terror police. It is understood that a further half a dozen convicted terrorists will be recalled or arrested within a week. 

 

Counter-terror police are in a race against time to lock up convicted terrorists living in the community amid fears they may now go on the run or else launch attacks, fearing they may be re-arrested imminently in the crackdown.

Policing at Christmas markets in major cities is being stepped up as well as at the showpiece Winter Wonderland event at Hyde Park in central London to reassure the public at a time of heightened tensions.

Government officials are convinced Khan "hoodwinked" supervisors, "deceiving" them into allowing him to travel unaccompanied from his home in Stafford to London on Friday to attend the conference where he stabbed to death Jack Merritt, 25, and Saskia Jones, 23. 

It is understood that officials - including senior probation officers and police - gave a green light to the trip less than a month earlier, deeming Khan, 28, to be "low risk", having appeared to be compliant to being de-radicalised.

A photograph emerged on Monday of Khan standing next to Choudary in Stoke-on-Trent in March 2009 at a sharia law conference organised by al-Muhajiroun, a group banned under anti-terror legislation

Anjem Choudary near his home in East London on Monday Dec 2 Credit: Julian Simmonds for the telegraph

Choudary was the keynote speaker and shared a platform with Khan, who at the time was still a teenager. Within the year, Khan had hatched a plot with co-conspirators to blow up the Stock Exchange and establish a terror training camp in Pakistan.

Khan was subsequently jailed for 16 years but released automatically on licence last December having served half his sentence. The apparent influence of Choudary will put him under renewed scrutiny. ITV News reported on Monday night that Khan had met with another former member of al-Muhajiroun following his release from jail.

Government sources said Choudary’s licencing conditions were now under review. “We need to look at his whole licencing because we need to make sure vulnerable people are not going to be radicalised by him,” said the source, explaining that the murderous attack on Friday allowed officials to reassess the risk posed by all freed terrorists.

At the time he was jailed for terror offences in 2016, Choudary had been linked to 15 terror plots dating back almost 20 years and connections to hundreds of British jihadists who fled to Syria to fight. Choudary was released in October last year and moved back to his family home in May.

The Telegraph has learnt that Choudary has begun visiting a local mosque close to his home in Ilford in east London. He is already subject to some of the most stringent living conditions ever put in place on a convict. Robert Buckland, the Justice Secretary, has ordered a case-by-case review while sources said “any breaches of licences would lead to immediate recalls”. 

Leanne O'Brien, the girlfriend of Jack Merritt, is comforted by family members during a vigil at The Guildhall in Cambridge Credit: Joe Giddens/PA Wire

New legislation is also being looked at to tighten up the supervision of terrorists released into the community.

Mr Buckland said: “The MAPPA [Multi-agency public protection arrangements] process needs to be looked at again in light of Friday’s terrible events and if further legislation is required, we will certainly look at that. The Prime Minister has already signalled his intention to introduce new terrorism laws and I wholeheartedly support that.” 

According to one source, 67 freed terrorists will be visited by police over the next few days to assess if they have breached licence conditions and whether stricter rules need to be put in place.

The source said: “We are expecting more recalls.”

At a vigil in Cambridge, Jack Merritt’s girlfriend Leanne O’Brien broke down in tears as she arrived at the remembrance service. 

Clutching a cuddly toy, Miss O’Brien was inconsolable as she stood together with her parents and held hands with her murdered boyfriend’s mother.

Saskia Jones, who was 23, was remembered by close friends at the vigil as a girl who “changed lives” and worked for the “greater good”.

“If only she knew how much she changed my life,” one said. “I wish I could tell her.”

Left to right: London mayor Sadiq Khan, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn attended a vigil at Guildhall Yard in London Credit: AP Photo/Matt Dunham

Dave Merritt on Monday praised his son as a ‘beautiful spirit’, who had ‘devoted his energy’ to Learning Together, the University of Cambridge-based programme that tries to rehabilitate offenders and in which Khan was enrolled.

Merrit, it emerged, was Khan’s support worker who had run the Learning Together programme at Whitemoor jail where Khan was incarcerated.

An eyewitness said Merritt was the first person to confront Khan after he launched his knife attack at the prisoner rehabilitation conference at Fishmongers’ Hall before he was finally stopped and shot and killed on London Bridge.