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  1. ITV Report

Sunderland prisoner could be first affected by planned terror law change

Mohammed Zahir Khan, who was jailed in 2018 and could be affected by legislation changes. Credit: Counter Terrorism Policing North East

The Government faces a race against time to pass emergency legislation following the Streatham attack, as police chiefs warned the threat of terrorism was "not diminishing."

A target of February 27 has been set to rush the Bill through Parliament in order to prevent the automatic release of any further terrorists.

A Whitehall official said: "If the legislation is passed by February 27 we can prevent the automatic release of any further terrorist suspects who might pose a threat to the public."

It is understood that one offender is due for release on February 28, with around five expected to be let out in March unless the new law is in force.

According to reports, that offender is Sunderland shopkeeper Mohammed Zahir Khan, who was jailed for four-and-a-half years in May 2018 for posting messages and material that was supportive of IS on social media.

The father-of-one, originally from Birmingham, had served long sentences in the past for drugs supply offences and moved to the north east to make a break from gangs.

Meanwhile, Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner Neil Basu, head of UK counter-terror policing, said the "threat is, despite our best efforts, not diminishing", after a third attack in as many months.

The UK's terror threat level is currently set at "substantial", meaning an attack is likely. It was downgraded from "severe", the second highest rating, in November, shortly before the London Bridge attack.

Convicted terrorist Sudesh Amman wore a fake suicide belt as he grabbed a knife from a shop in Streatham High Road, south London, on Sunday, before stabbing two bystanders.

The 20-year-old had been jailed for possessing and distributing terrorist documents in December 2018, but was freed automatically halfway through his sentence less than a fortnight ago.

He was put under 24-hour police surveillance on his release after it is understood security services regarded him as an "extremely concerning individual".

Meanwhile, Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner Neil Basu, head of UK counter-terror policing, said the "threat is, despite our best efforts, not diminishing", after a third attack in as many months.

The UK's terror threat level is currently set at "substantial", meaning an attack is likely. It was downgraded from "severe", the second highest rating, in November, shortly before the London Bridge attack.

Convicted terrorist Sudesh Amman wore a fake suicide belt as he grabbed a knife from a shop in Streatham High Road, south London, on Sunday, before stabbing two bystanders.

The 20-year-old had been jailed for possessing and distributing terrorist documents in December 2018, but was freed automatically halfway through his sentence less than a fortnight ago.

He was put under 24-hour police surveillance on his release after it is understood security services regarded him as an "extremely concerning individual".

Mr Basu said:

Police and the security services knew the attacker posed a significant risk and we were, unfortunately, proved right in our decision to place him under surveillance.

But with 3,000 or so subjects of interest currently on our radar, and many convicted terrorists soon due to be released from prison, we simply cannot watch all of them, all the time.

– Neil Basu, head of UK counter-terror policing

He welcomed plans announced on Monday by Justice Secretary Robert Buckland, who said the urgent legislation was needed to make sure offenders serve two thirds of their sentence before they are considered eligible for release, at which point their case would be considered by a panel of specialist judges and psychiatrists at the Parole Board.

There are 224 terrorists in prison in Britain, with most thought to be holding Islamist extremist views, according to the latest published figures to the end of September.

As many as 50 terrorists could be freed from jail this year, figures suggest.

A Whitehall official said the attack in Streatham highlighted an issue surrounding terrorists with relatively short prison sentences.

"There aren't many terrorist offenders who will be in that similar kind of scenario but if there are any then that's too many and that's what we are looking to fix," the official said.

The Government plans to introduce the legislation in the Commons on Tuesday next week, with the aim of clearing the House by the time it rises for recess on Thursday.

The Bill will then go to the Lords on February 25 with the aim of getting royal assent on February 27.

"There are no terrorist offenders who are due to receive automatic release before that date," the official said.

The source said the Lords, where the Government does not have a majority, should "wish to carry out its scrutiny quickly" as "we cannot continue to be in a position where the state has no power to block the release of terrorists who continue to pose a threat to the public".

Lawyers have warned the move would open the Government up to legal challenges from those already behind bars who were sentenced under the current rules.

Officials said though that they are confident they have the flexibility to change how an offender serves their sentence, by extending the time they spend behind bars rather than on licence.