Police in the United Kingdom investigates Saturday’s knife attack in the city of Reading, in which three people died, as a terrorist act, but there are fears that his attack may have been motivated by homophobia after police named one of the victims as a ‘brilliant and loving’ gay American
Investigators are still have not confirmed a motive of the 25-year-old Libyan asylum seeker arrested over the incident, however, 39-year-old American Joe Ritchie-Bennett is believed to have been gay.
A local told the Daily Mail that, “two of the confirmed deaths are gay men. A friend told me the third is also a gay man. I knew one of them, who was an acquaintance. A homophobic attack can still be a terrorist incident.”
Police apparently have not ruled out homophobia as a possible motive.
Ritchie-Bennett had been at a picnic with his friends when the group was attacked by Saadallah, who also murdered James Furlong, 36, who was a history teacher. A total of three people were killed and three were seriously injured.
Although the police did not officially identify the perpetrator, the Press Association wrote that his name is 25-year-old Khairi Saadallah. Sky News then reported that the Libyan had applied for asylum in the United Kingdom, claiming he feared Islamists in his own country. According to the Associated Press, last year, Saadallah spent two months in prison for assaulting an emergency worker.
Saadallah was a local who lived approximately a mile from the scene of the attack. He is said to have converted from Islam to Christianity three years ago, and enjoyed smoking marijuana and drinking whiskey. Although the man reportedly claimed in different encounters to have fought both for and against ISIS, police say he did not ascribe to any ideology and may have been suffering from mental health issues.
The attack took place around 6 p.m. in the center of Reading, where the sunny weather attracted many people to the nearby park. As pubs in the UK are closed due to coronavirus measures, a lot of people gather outside.
Witnesses who have already been questioned by more than 40 investigators who said that the young Libyan started randomly attacking people around him. A Reading resident, Lawrence Wort, told BBC News that the assailant suddenly ran to a group of about eight to ten people and began stabbing them in the neck and other parts of the body with a knife. Then he ran after Wort, who managed to escape.
“From our inquiries so far, officers have found nothing to suggest that there was anyone else involved in this attack, and presently we are not looking for anyone else in relation to this incident,” said the Metropolitan police assistant commissioner Neil Basu, adding that there is no indication that there is a risk of another attack or that staying in public places would be dangerous.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was horrified by the attack.
“If there were lessons to be learned after the attack, the government will not hesitate to take action,” the prime minister said, suggesting a fresh crackdown on terror suspects.
I’m appalled and sickened that people should lose their lives in this way. Our thoughts are with the families and friends of the victims.
Thank you to Thames Valley Police for their bravery in tackling the suspect. pic.twitter.com/BWgyODoIWM
— Boris Johnson #StayAlert (@BorisJohnson) June 21, 2020
The UK has experienced several terrorist attacks in recent years, carried out by radical Islamists. In 2017, a suicide bomber killed 22 people at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester.
In several attacks, the perpetrators also used knives or drove cars into victims. The last attack happened in February in London, where the police shot a man who attacked several people with a knife, wounding at least three people, one of them seriously. Last November, an assailant stabbed two people on London Bridge. Later, it turned out that he was convicted of terrorism in the past.
Title image: Flowers are placed at the entrance to the Holt School, in Wokingham, England, in memory of teacher James Furlong, a victim of a terror attack in nearby Reading, Monday June 22, 2020. A lone terror suspect remains in custody accused of killing three people and wounding three others in a Reading park on Saturday night. (Steve Parsons/PA via AP)