Some ironies are almost too cruel to observe.
Steve Irwin, the man who fearlessly wrestled crocodiles, was killed by a stingray. Jay Austin and Lauren Geoghegan, who believed in universal human kindness, were murdered by ISIS on a cycling tour in Tajikistan. And last week, two Cambridge University graduates, Jack Merritt, 25, and Saskia Jones, 23, were murdered by a terrorist while attending a conference about rehabilitating criminals.
In this instance, there’s an important lesson to be learned.
In 2012, Usman Khan, along with eight others, was convicted of terrorism offenses for plotting to bomb the London Stock Exchange. During his trial, it was established that Khan had close ties to Anjem Choudary, an influential British Islamist imprisoned for inciting support for ISIS. Though Khan was given a 16-year prison sentence, he was let out only seven years in, after his lawyer had enrolled him in a “deradicalization” program. According to a letter obtained by ITV News, Khan had hoped to “prove to the authorities” that he was no longer “immature.”
Immature? That word seems appropriate when describing young men who drink to excess or drive too fast. But it does not fit when describing a young man who planned to bomb innocent people in a capital city.
Khan’s movements after his release were restricted. Nevertheless, he was granted a special license to travel into central London, along with other convicted criminals, to attend a special conference. The conference was called “Learning Together” and, according to the BBC, aimed to bring together “offenders and those in higher education ‘to study alongside each other’ in equal partnership.” The University of Cambridge has said that the program has been successful in the past, having “broken down prejudices and created new possibilities for all those who took part.”
Again, I spot a potential error: “For all those who took part.” What about Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones? They “took part” in the program and now have had all “new possibilities” permanently removed. And that is because Khan — again: a convicted terrorist — murdered them in broad daylight.
The Telegraph reports that “when Usman Khan emerged into the hallway armed and ready to begin his rampage of terror it was his mentor Jack Merritt who was the first to rush to stop him.” That is a moving and admirable display of good faith and courage, certainly. But it is tragic and sad — not to mention fatally naïve on the part of the authorities and organizers — that he was put in that position in the first place.
Khan, wrapped in a fake suicide vest and holding knives, then began his rampage through the hallway and out onto London Bridge, killing Merritt and Jones and wounding several others en route. He was initially warded off by Lukasz Koczocik, an employee at the venue, who ran toward him with a ceremonial lance. Koczocik is rightly being honored with a bravery medal by the Polish government. Another nearby man grabbed a fire extinguisher. And yet another grabbed a narwhal tusk from the wall. No doubt their bravery saved others. Again, that is commendable — and it is deeply sad that it was necessary.
The police then arrived, dragged the members of the public away from danger, and shot Khan dead.
But how could this have happened? Why were those in charge so blind to the threat that Khan posed? Why did they take his professed remorse at face value?
The incident may well point to a much wider problem. Indeed, it has been reported and confirmed by the British government that 74 people jailed for terror offenses have been released early. The prime minister, Boris Johnson, has confirmed that they will have their license conditions reviewed. “This is the right approach,” Will Heaven, director of policy at Policy Exchange, writes. “For a start, anyone who was convicted of London-related terrorism should not be allowed into the capital until they have served their full sentence.”
That would certainly be a good start. Beyond that, though, we might try to do something about a culture that blinds young people to obvious dangers. In this instance, a criminal’s commitment to terrorism was tragically underestimated due to our prevailing progressive fashions — i.e., cozying up to jihadis — which are increasingly disconnected from reality. The cost was two promising young lives.