Fishmonger's Hall terrorist Usman Khan was 'influential inmate who spoke to Rigby killer' and 'prepared for martyrdom'

Fishmongers' Hall terrorist Usman Khan was said to be a danger to others, a court has heard. Credit: PA

There were signs Usman Khan "prepared for martyrdom" and was a danger to others before he carried out his knife attack at Fishmongers' Hall which left two dead and three injured, an inquest jury has heard.

The attack at a prisoner rehabilitation conference near London Bridge on November 29, 2019, led to the deaths of Cambridge University graduates Jack Merritt, 25, and Saskia Jones, 23.

During his eight years in seven prisons, the 28-year-old was involved in a string of violent incidents and “extremist bullying”, London’s Guildhall was told.

Jurors were told Khan had been an “influential” inmate who associated with other high-profile terrorists including Fusilier Lee Rigby’s killer.

Khan was out on licence when he attended the event armed with two kitchen knives and wearing a fake suicide vest.

Jack Merritt, 25, and Saskia Jones, 23, were killed by Usman Khan at a prisoner education event at Fishmongers’ Hall in November 2019 Credit: Metropolitan Police/PA

The 28-year-old was detained on London Bridge by three men who chased him from the venue where the Learning Together offender educational conference was taking place.

Ex-prisoner John Crilly hosed Khan with a fire extinguisher and communications manager Darryn Frost jabbed at Khan with a narwhal tusk, sending him off balance.

Unarmed inmate Steven Gallant then tackled Khan to the ground, where all three restrained him and he was later shot dead by police.

An inquest into the deaths of Ms Jones and Mr Merritt heard how there were warning signs in Khan's past and behaviour while he was in prison for eight years after being convicted of terror offences.

On Tuesday, senior investigating officer Detective Chief Inspector Dan Brown gave evidence about Khan’s life and long history of extremism in and out of prison.

Born in Stoke-on-Trent, Khan was excluded from school at the age of 13 following an assault on a fellow pupil.

In his teens, he became interested in the extreme Islamic views of prominent figures Anwar Al-Awlaki and Anjem Choudary, the leader of terrorist organisation al-Muhajiroun (ALM).

In 2008, he preached in Stoke on behalf of ALM and police raided the address where he was living, jurors heard.

Afterwards, Khan said he was born and bred in Stoke, and insisted: “I ain’t no terrorist.”

But within years, Khan was one of nine men from London, Stoke and Cardiff to be convicted of terrorism offences.

Khan admitted engaging in conduct in preparation of terrorist acts by plotting to set up a terrorist training camp in Pakistan which might send fighters back to the UK.

In February 2012, Khan was handed an indeterminate sentence which was varied upon appeal to an extended sentence.

It meant Khan had to serve eight years in custody but no longer needed the approval of the Parole Board before his release, the court heard.

Tributes to Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones on London Bridge.

Jurors were told that Khan became a senior figure among extremists in prison and was categorised as a “high risk”.

In January 2011, Khan suggested he had access to a weapon and would “do someone in the eye or neck” and wanted to die and go to paradise, jurors heard.

In March 2011, Khan was involved in an attack on another prisoner to shouts of “Allahu Akbar”, Mr Brown said.

The same year, Khan shouted during the two-minute silence for Armistice Day.

In June 2012, Khan recited a poem which included the line “cut off the kuffar’s [a derogatory term used to describe a non-Muslim] head”, the court heard.

In May 2013, a stockpile of chemicals was found in Khan’s cell which would not have been capable of making a bomb or explosive device but was still “very concerning”, Mr Brown said.

In November of that year, a Church of England chaplain was caught up in an assault by Khan on another prisoner.

The same day, a razor blade was found in his cell, the court heard.

In 2017, while at HMP Whitemoor, Khan remained a high risk, Mr Brown said.

While his behaviour was noted as “acceptable” with “no recent adjudications”, evidence suggested he continued to harbour extremist attitudes and deliberately “told lies or ticked boxes to achieve progression”.

In March 2017, Khan talked about his Muslim faith with Michael Adebolajo, who beheaded Fusilier Rigby, jurors heard.

Michael Adebolajo was one of two people who murdered Lee Rigby in 2013. Credit: PA

By June of that year, Khan was regarded as an “influential” terrorist prisoner involved in “extremist bullying”, Mr Brown said.

In October 2018, intelligence on Khan suggested he would “return to his old ways”.

Meanwhile, he was said to have engaged “positively” with Learning Together, jurors heard.

Following his release from prison on licence, Khan’s progress was discussed in a series of Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements (Mappa) meetings.

Jurors heard that the idea of Khan learning to drive a dumper truck to help his employment chances was “deemed not appropriate” due to the risk it presented.

However, when the subject of him attending the Learning Together event in London came up, there was no discussion of the risk that could pose, the court heard.

At a final Mappa meeting on November 14 2019, Khan’s probation officer noted he was “always cheerful in his presentation” and there was no concern for his mental health.

The arrangements for Khan to travel to London on November 29 and be met at Euston station were mentioned, jurors were told.

Usman Khan was pictured on CCTV wearing a large coat on the way to the event. Credit: PA

Jonathan Hough QC, counsel for the coroner, said consideration of the trip referred to “logistics rather than risks”.

Mr Brown replied: “It looks like it’s decided already, yes.”

The inquest also heard that Khan “prepared for martyrdom” by visiting a barbershop and separately removing all his body hair before launching his bloody rampage.

Police investigating Khan's movements in the week leading up to the attack found he had bought knives, gaffer tape, a “manbag” and an extra large coat – the latter he used to hide a fake suicide vest he wore to the event, police said.

Khan spent the day prior to the attack getting his hair and beard trimmed, the inquests were told.

He also bought some wax strips and razors, believed to have been used by Khan to shave his chest, underarm and pubic hair in a toilet cubicle at Fishmongers’ Hall, before he armed himself with knives and stabbed Mr Merritt, Ms Jones and others.

Asked about the significance of visiting the barbershop on November 28, Detective Chief Inspector Brown said: “Cutting hair and trimming beards is a common act of cleanliness in preparation for martyrdom.”

He added: “A common task prior to seeking martyrdom is the preparation of cleanliness, removing bodily hair, chest, pubic hair and underarm hair, which was consistent in this case.”

Mr Brown said police investigations led them to believe Khan bought the kitchen knives used in the attack from Stafford market, the day before he struck.

The previous week, Khan bought gaffer tape which police believe was used to fashion the suicide belt, as well as a bag he wore to the event.

The shop worker who sold Khan the latter item would later remark to police that Khan wore sunglasses in the store, which she found strange.

Mr Brown said: “When she (the cashier) asked if he was having a nice day, he just grunted at her.”

The inquest jury also heard Khan spoke to his family “several times” on November 28.

CCTV footage shown to jurors from Khan’s journey down to London on the day of the attack showed the convicted jihadi, wearing the dark coat and a cap, going into the toilet cubicle for roughly seven minutes.

It was during this time that police believe he fixed the suicide belt around his body, under the oversized coat which he wore to Fishmongers’ Hall.

Police who searched Khan’s flat later found that electrical items such as his Xbox computer console were stripped of their wiring, which detectives believe was used in the fake suicide belt to make it seem more authentic.

The inquests continue.