A man suspected of stabbing two people to death in a terror attack on London Bridge was a former prisoner convicted in 2012 for terrorism offences, police say.

Police and emergency vehicles gather near London Bridge in London, on November 29, 2019 after reports of shots being fired on London Bridge.
Police and emergency vehicles gather near London Bridge in London, on November 29, 2019 after reports of shots being fired on London Bridge. (AFP)

British police named the man who stabbed two people to death in London on Friday in what the authorities called a terrorist attack as 28-year-old Usman Khan, who had been previously convicted of terrorism offences and released from prison last year.

A man wearing a suspected hoax explosive device knifed two people to death in a terror attack on Friday before being shot dead by police on London Bridge.

"This individual was known to authorities, having been convicted in 2012 for terrorism offences," said Britain's top counter-terrorism police officer Neil Basu in a statement.

"He was released from prison in December 2018 on licence and clearly, a key line of enquiry now is to establish how he came to carry out this attack."

Metropolitan Police Chief Cressida Dick said two stabbing victims had died and three injured people were being treated in hospitals after the attack, which unfolded just yards from the site of a deadly 2017 van and knife rampage.

Health officials said one of the injured was in critical but stable condition, one was stable and the third had less serious injuries.

Police said Khan was convicted in 2012 of terrorism offences and released in December 2018 “on license,” which means he had to meet certain conditions or face recall to prison. Several British media outlets reported that he was wearing an electronic ankle bracelet.

Basu said Khan was attending a London event hosted by Learning Together — a Cambridge-based organisation that works to educate prisoners — when he launched the attack, killing a man and a woman and injuring three others.

The attacker’s history will raise difficult questions for Britain’s government and security services. Basu, the London police counterterrorism head, said police were not actively looking for any other suspects.

Johnson says important to enforce terrorism sentences 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he had "long argued" that it was a "mistake to allow serious and violent criminals to come out of prison early.”

"It is very important that we get out of that habit and that we enforce the appropriate sentences for dangerous criminals, especially for terrorists, that I think the public will want to see,” he said.

Johnson, who chaired a meeting of the government’s COBRA emergency committee late Friday, said more police would be patrolling the streets in the coming days “for reassurance purposes.”

The violence erupted less than two weeks before Britain holds a national election. The main political parties temporarily suspended campaigning in London as a mark of respect.

Dick, the police chief, said officers were called just before 2 pm to Fishmongers’ Hall, a conference venue at the north end of London Bridge. The pedestrian and vehicle bridge links the city’s business district with the south bank of the River Thames.

Learning Together was holding a conference there on Friday. The University of Cambridge said it was “gravely concerned” about students, staff and alumni who might have been caught up in the attack.

Minutes after the stabbings report, witnesses saw a man with a knife being wrestled to the ground by members of the public on the bridge before armed-response officers shot him dead.

Scores of police, some armed with sub-machine guns, rushed to the scene, ushering bemused office workers and tourists out of an area packed with office buildings, banks, restaurants, and bars. Workers in office blocks in the area were told to stay inside.

Witnesses reported seeing what appeared to be fighting on the bridge and hearing several gunshots. 

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said some of the injured were in serious condition.

Khan said police weren't looking for anyone else, and Johnson said that "to the best of our knowledge, the incident has been contained."

Amanda Hunter said she was on a bus crossing the bridge when she heard shots.

"[The bus] all of a sudden stopped and there was commotion and I looked out the window and I just saw these three police officers going over to a man," she told the BBC.

"It seemed like there was something in his hand, I'm not 100 percent sure, but then one of the police officers shot him."

BBC reporter John McManus was in the area and said he saw figures grappling on the bridge. He said, "I thought it was initially a fight," but then shots rang out.

Online videos

One video posted on social media showed two men struggling on the bridge before police pulled a man in civilian clothes off a black-clad man on the ground.

Other images showed police, guns drawn, pointing at a figure on the ground in the distance.

Scores of police descended on the area and ushered people away from the bridge, which links the city's business district with the south bank of the River Thames.

Cars and buses on the busy bridge were at a standstill, with a white truck stopped diagonally across the lanes. Video footage showed police pointing guns at the truck before moving to check its container.

British Transport Police said London Bridge station, one of the city's busiest rail hubs, was closed and trains were not stopping there.

City of London Police, the force responsible for the business district, urged people to stay away from the area.

London Bridge was the scene of a June 2017 attack when Daesh-inspired attackers ran down people on the bridge, killing two, before stabbing several people to death in nearby Borough Market.

In March 2017, an attacker fatally struck four people with a car on nearby Westminster Bridge then fatally stabbed a police officer before security forces shot and killed him in a courtyard outside Parliament.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies