Reading terror attacker, 26, is given whole life sentence

Reading terrorist, 26, who murdered three men and stabbed three others while screaming ‘Allahu akbar’ during park rampage is given whole life term

  • Khairi Saadallah, 26, shouted ‘Allahu akhbar’ as he fatally stabbed three men
  • James Furlong, 36, David Wails, 49, and Joseph Ritchie-Bennett, 39, all died
  • Three other people injured before Saadallah threw away the knife and ran off
  • Failed Libyan asylum seeker launched attacks in Reading on June 20, 2020

A Libyan terrorist who screamed: ‘Allahu akbar’ as he murdered three men sitting in a park a day after police visited him at his home will die in jail, a judge said today.

Asylum seeker Khairi Saadallah, 26, avoided deportation from the UK for more than seven years as he steadily racked up violent convictions before committing the atrocity last summer.

He knifed history teacher James Furlong, 36, scientist David Wails, 49, and their friend Joseph Ritchie-Bennett, 39, to death in the ‘ruthlessly efficient’ attack lasting less than a minute.

Stephen Young, Patrick Edwards and Nishit Nisudan were also stabbed in the attack in Reading on June 20 last year but survived.

The jihadist killer targeted the victims as they enjoyed the sunshine at Forbury Gardens after the first Covid lockdown restrictions were eased.

His deadly rampage was likened to a game of ‘duck, duck goose’ by a witness as he ran around trying to kill ‘as many people as he could,’ the Old Bailey heard.

Khairi Saadallah, 26, shouted ‘Allahu akhbar’ as he fatally stabbed three friends in June 2020

Saadallah served as a ‘proud’ soldier of Libyan terror cult Ansar Al Sharia during the country’s civil war before fleeing Tripoli for the UK in 2012.

He was known to the Home Office as a violent offender and was freed from HMP Bullingdon, where he befriended notorious hate preacher Omar Brooks, 15 days before the murders.

On June 4 he had received a letter from the Secretary of State stating he would be deported for ‘the public good.’

Saadallah then set about plotting his murderous spree, carrying out reconnaissance on the park and buying a Huawei phone in addition to his probation handset.

Data recovered from the device after the atrocity showed he had been using it to browse YouTube videos of Jihadi John and search the internet for information about extremist ideology.

Images accessed through Facebook also revealed him posing in military fatigues and flaunting guns while he fought in the civil war.

Saadallah admitted murder and attempted murder but submitted a basis of plea, denying he had been motivated by extremist beliefs or put significant planning into the attack.

But after a two-day hearing held to determine the facts, his claims were rejected by Mr Justice Sweeney today, who ruled he had been ‘advancing’ his terrorist cause.

The terrorist sat in the dock today and remained stony faced as he was handed three life sentences as well as 24 years for the attempted murders.

He wore a traditional kufi and a navy top as the sentence was passed.

After his brother voiced concerns about his well-being, police went to check up on him at his home in Basingstoke Road on June 19, a day before the murders.

Chilling footage shows the killer greeting police and asking: ‘I’m not in trouble am I?’ while he hid the murder weapon. The officer replied ‘No.’

Striking up a friendly conversation during the home visit, an officer can be heard asking: ‘What’s up lad?’ while the killer stood in front of a bag.

Bodyworn cameras caught Saadallah moving towards a corner of the room and standing in front of the bag which contained the knife as they chatted with him.

Police released footage showing Saadallah dismissing officers’ concerns about his mental state.

Within hours of the check-up, he had left home for the park, ‘strolling normally’ and appearing ‘placid and polite’ until he unleashed the deadly violence.

Wearing a Union Jack bandana tied around his left knee on his way to carry out the atrocity, he passed by a woman in a wheelchair who he handed a Holy Bible.

James Furlong (left), 36, and David Wails (right), 49, were two of the victims in the attack 

Joseph Ritchie-Bennett, 39, was also fatally stabbed in the attack on June 20 last year 

Neighbour Charmaine Harper remarked on the killer’s relaxed disposition in the moments leading up to the killings as he gave her the religious texts in the doorway of the estate.

Victim’s mother pays tribute to ‘wonderful, caring, loving son’

In a victim impact statement read to the court during Saadallah’s sentencing hearing last week Mr Wails’ mother Joan paid tribute to her ‘wonderful, caring, loving son.’

The mum said: ‘I don’t know where to start to explain how I feel about the brutal killing of my wonderful, caring, loving son David and how this has affected me.

‘I am an extremely private person sharing my feelings I find very hard to do, however I want to do this for David.

‘David was my firstborn and would have been celebrating his 50th birthday this year if he had not been so brutally taken. We never got to see him and celebrate that special time with him.

‘There are no certainties in life, that I understand, however you always expect that you will go before your child and when this doesn’t happen it is such a heart wrench.

‘There is no sense in David’s death, it was cruel, inhumane and cowardly. The shock horror and grief of hearing that my son David’s and his two friends had been killed with stay with me for the rest of my life.

‘What this person did to David and his two friends is monstrous. That’s what my family and I refer to as a monster. We don’t use his name, he is not deserving of it.

‘He is a coward, he is not human. He is an evil murderer who has cowardly taken the life of my son and his friends.’

Beloved Mr Wails’ brother Andrew described in his statement how he frantically called the morning after the attack when their mother hadn’t heard from David for their weekly catch-up.

‘My brother was stabbed to death whilst peacefully going about this own business sitting in the park with his friends. All he was doing was enjoying some time with his friends on a sunny evening causing no one any harm and then he was brutally killed,’ Andrew said.

‘When it was confirmed by that police that David had been killed, that was the moment that my life was never and will never be the same again.

‘The rage and hatred I feel towards the coward who did this coward that this to David is indescribable.’

Mr Wails’ sister Anne Rogers was unaware of the incident until her brother called her the following morning with the tragic news.

‘I was utterly heartbroken and devastated when I found out about my brother,’ Anne said.

‘David was a kind, loving and very gentle person and just went about his business and kept himself to himself.

‘It would have been hard enough if we had lost him to an illness or disease or even an accident, but to have lost him so suddenly in such a horrific and senseless way makes it even harder to accept.

‘David was only 49 and had so much more to do. When my brother Andrew told me that David had been stabbed and was dead, I couldn’t begin to comprehend what had happened.

‘It was possibly the worst moment of my life.’

Mr Richie-Bennett’s relatives read their victim impact statements via video-link from the US.

His mother Charlene Ritchie said her son moved to the UK to be with his husband Ian Bennett before losing him to cancer in 2014.

Mrs Ritchie said her kind son ‘always saw the good in people’ and his murder ‘devastated’ his friends and family.

Addressing the killer, she said: ‘I cannot and will not call you by name as you are nothing but a failure, your entire life, and I guess your actions that made you feel powerful without thinking of the people who would lose their loved ones so tragically.’

Mr Ritchie’s father Robert said: ‘These senseless murders have caused me and my family extreme sorrow and overwhelming sadness. There have been days when I cannot function normally grieving the loss of Joe, David and James.

‘This Christmas Joe was coming to Philadelphia for a family holiday. We will be visiting Joe’s grave this Christmas and every Christmas Eve because of the murderous acts of this defendant.’

Mr Ritchie’s brother, also named Robert, said his brother, who would have turned 40 this January, had dreams of climbing mount Kilimanjaro and travel to Greece and Tasmania for his birthday.

‘He was a little disappointed that he would not be able to do all three because of the restrictions placed upon us by the Covid-19 pandemic. However, he said he had the rest of his life to do these things.

‘Little did he know a terrorist was going to take his life from him, denying him a chance to achieve his dreams,’ he said.

Detective Chief Superintendent Kath Barnes, QPM, head of CTPSE, said: ‘Saadallah is a committed jihadist and was intent on killing as many people as he could on that sunny summer’s evening in June.

‘As the evidence has shown, Saadallah planned this attack in meticulous detail. The men he killed were not just murdered, they were executed at such a speed, they had very little chance to react or defend themselves.

‘The horrors of this incident took just a single minute to unfold. It took him less than 10 seconds to kill three innocent men, and he then went on to attack and tried to kill another three men before running off towards the town centre.

‘In that tiny timeframe, he changed the lives of all those involved forever.

‘He has caused unspeakable hurt and distress to the families of the three men who were brutally murdered as they were relaxing and enjoying socialising with friends on a Saturday evening. I’m sure there will also be lasting effects on those who were injured in the attack, who were fortunate not to have been even more seriously harmed.

‘The scene for other people in the busy park at the time of this incident was horrendous and I must pay tribute to the many people who assisted with giving first aid and who have subsequently provided important evidence as part of our investigation.

‘The details heard during this hearing will undoubtedly have been distressing for the families of the victims and survivors and I extend my sincere thanks to each and every one of them for their unwavering support throughout this investigation.

‘The investigation was led by a specialist team of investigators; police officers and police staff from CTPSE. The sentence passed today is testament to their tenacity in investigating this extremely complex case.’

Harrowing witness statements described how one of the victims dropped to the floor ‘like a tree being felled’ and others were slashed in their neck and face.

Prosecutor Alison Morgan QC, reading from the first-hand accounts in court, said: ‘Roger Smith recalls… “Joe just going over sideways. Like a tree being felled… It all happened really quickly.

‘It was like some weird dream I suppose. It was only Ionut pulling on my arm that kind of woke me back up again. I just can’t recall the detail.”

‘Ionut Paraschiv, also in [the first group], first noticed the defendant walking along the path uttering words, possibly in a foreign language.

‘The defendant then suddenly rushed towards Joseph, and appeared to pat him on the shoulder.

‘He then did the same to James and then moved to Stephen who raised his arms to protect his face.

‘It was at that point, he noticed the male was holding a knife so he shouted ‘Knife, knife, run, he has a knife’. He saw Stephen run away bleeding from his head.

‘He describes the knife as a ‘like a Swiss army knife.’ Although he does not remember how and when David Wails was assaulted, he recalls seeing ‘blood pumping out from Joe’s back’.

‘Ionut saw the defendant run towards another group (Group 2) and then out of the park.

‘Oliver Seaman was resting at the time of the attack. He woke when he became aware of someone behind James, Stephen and David, moving quickly like a game of ‘duck duck goose’… tapping their shoulders.’

Another witness, Lawrence Wort, detailed how Saadallah ‘locked eyes’ with him and appeared to be on drugs because of his dark pupils.

Saadallah was seen running up to victims and ‘hugging’ them from behind while stabbing them in the neck.

Horrific CCTV footage from a nearby churchyard shows him charging at the groups of park-goers before running out of the park and disposing of the knife.

In a craven bid to ‘blend in with the crowd’ of people he had just stabbed, Saadallah cut his own arm with a razor blade before he was spotted and chased by a group of brave witnesses.

Heroic members of the public, including an off-duty policeman who saw the attack, pursued the killer through central Reading before he was tackled to the ground by officers.

Ms Morgan said: ‘Saadallah inflicted the wound on his arm either to make it look like he was self-harming to justify his actions or to disguise himself as a victim.

‘He picked up a razor from the area where his backpack was on the ground. He then made a cutting motion against his own harm,’ Ms Morgan said.

‘This must have been for one of two reasons: either to try to create an injury which might allow him to blend into the crowd; or to create a ‘self-harm’ injury that he would use to try and justify his actions in due course.

‘He then walked off towards the centre of Reading, and he broke into a run as he realised that people who had been in the park and who acted and continued to act with conspicuous bravery began to follow the defendant.’

Saadallah told officers: ‘I killed those c**ts, what are you waiting for?’ after his arrest, the court heard.

In vile comments made to police after he was taken to the station, Saadallah called the murder victims ‘wronguns’ and said they ‘deserved’ to die.

After initially pretending to have been targeted in a robbery, the terrorist made a series of chilling remarks when he was in custody.

Despite having been deemed mentally fit for questioning, Saadallah barked ‘like a dog’ and started doing press-ups in front of officers before admitting the attack during his interview.

Boasting that he believed he was going to ‘paradise’ for the killings, Saadallah paced his cell repeatedly announcing that he was going to plead guilty while police outside took note.

He refused to sign the comments on record unless he was given a cigarette and instead began shouting about ‘magic’ in a desperate bid to appear ‘mad,’ the court heard.

But psychiatrists who assessed him at Belmarsh Prison confirmed there were no signs of a major mental illness.

He later made the following unsolicited comments: ‘Tell them I want to plead guilty to the jihad that I done and go to court tomorrow.’

Ms Morgan added: ‘On June 23, 2020, from 10.23am to 11.01am, he was interviewed and howled like a dog, did press ups and made random comments in response to questions such as ‘I got dropped off into Friar street by a bussy. He had two wings and dropped me off with a magic stick.’

‘The Prosecution alleges that the defendant was deliberately and disingenuously seeking to suggest mental disorder at the time of the interviews.’

The panic of the aftermath was captured in a 999 call made by a terrified park-goer in the moments after the attack.

In the recording played to the court the witness said: ‘People have been stabbed in Forbury Gardens.’

Asked how many people had been attacked he said: ‘I don’t know, dozens. We need an ambulance here. All the ambulances you can get. We’re following him.

‘Just get police here… Just do it now.’

’10 people have been stabbed?’ the operator asked.

‘More, more maybe,’ replied the witness.

An anonymous Muslim witness, Mr V, was caught on bodyworn camera telling the triple killer: ‘You have nothing to do with Islam’ before telling police: ‘I’m livid.’

Mr V said: ‘Seriously, I am a Muslim, I have every right… For a p***k like this to say “Allah akbar…” I’m just livid. I’ve lived in Reading all my life and I’ve never seen something like this.’

During the trial of issue before sentence, Rossano Scamardella QC, defending, argued the prosecution had ‘demonised everything done’ by the triple murderer in the run-up to the killings.

He said Saadallah’s actions should be viewed in a different context, and asked the court to consider the fact that he was aged just 15 when he took part in the 2011 Libyan civil war.

He is said to have indulged in cigarettes, cannabis and alcohol, all of which go against the Muslim faith.

Saadallah’s carrying of a Bible before the attack and a tattoo of a crucifix on his legs indicated an interest in religions outside of Islam, Mr Scamardella said.

‘No radical Muslim would countenance the dogma of another faith. It is inconceivable,’ said the barrister.

The barrister argued that wearing gloves at the height of summer, as Saadallah did on the day of the murders to cover his tracks, was ‘bizarre and unusual’ but not a sure sign of premeditation.

Nor was the purchase of a knife prior to the murders, argued the defence lawyer.

‘We concede there is evidence that the defendant took certain steps to facilitate the killing, putting himself in a position to commit the attack but nothing even close to the amount of planning that does justify a whole life term.

‘If buying a knife was evidence of significant planning then any murder by stabbing would involve a whole life term.’

But Justice Sweeney ruled today the atrocity had been both carefully planned and fuelled by deeply held extremist beliefs.

Passing sentence the judge said: ‘Having jettisoned the knife he got away from the scene but he was followed and arrested.

‘The two groups were each doing no more than sitting in the gardens a focal point in reading since the 18th century enjoying being able to be together after lockdown restrictions when without warning the defendant attacked and murdered James Furlong, 36, David Wails, 49, and Joseph Ritchie-Bennett, 39, each with a single thrust of the knife.

‘His attack on them was so swift, ruthless and brutal that none of them had a chance to react let alone defend themselves.

‘It was only because of the loss of the element of surprise that his attempts to murder Stephen Young, Patrick Edwards and Nishit Nisudan failed.

‘The statements speak volumes of the love and esteem in which they were and always will be held by their respective families, friends and professional colleagues and associates and for the devastating consequences of each for their loss.

Police tents pictured at Forbury Gardens in Reading after the attack in June last year

‘The defendant has declined to give or to call evidence and has made clear he no longer relies on the evidence of the defence psychiatrist.

The judge said Saadallah had held extremist beliefs and ‘continued to do so alone it with lapses for example in relation to drink and drugs up to and including the events on 20 June 2020.’

‘As of his release on 5 June he planned the attack.

‘The clothing he wore was intended to blend in with others in the gardens so as to achieve maximum surprise when the attack was launched.

‘His intention for the purpose of advancing his extremist Islamic cause was to kill as many people as possible.

‘As planned, he cut himself with the razor and endeavoured to make off. The seriousness of the murders [is] exceptionally high.

‘I have concluded that on each of counts one to three the appropriate starting point is a whole life order.

‘I am sure that the defendant was not suffering from a mental disorder that reduced his culpability for any of the offences.

‘It is clear the defendant did not and does not have any major mental illness.

‘To the extent that aspects of the defendant’s behaviour on 18 and 19 June caused concern to others they were the product of drug consumption had resolved by the 19 and played no part in the events of 20.

‘I am sure that during his police interviews he made crude attempts to portray himself as mad at the material time.

‘It is aggravating that the defendant has six previous convictions racially aggravated harassment eight for offences of violence and two for the possession of a knife or bladed article.

‘There can be no discount for plea in counts one to three.

‘There are no mitigating features but that the defendant is entitled to discount for his guilty pleas in counts four to six (attempted murder).

‘All six offences had a terrorist connection in consequence of which and academic the defendant will be subject to notification requirements for a period of 30 years.

‘Having no doubt that this is a rare and exceptional case in which just punishment requires you be kept in prison for the rest of your life, also [you will be sentenced to] a whole life order.’

Saadallah, of Basingstoke Road, Reading, admitted three counts of murder and three of attempted murder.

He was sentenced to three consecutive life sentences for the murders and 24 years imprisonment for the attempted murders.

The sentence means he will never be eligible for parole and will spend his life behind bars. 

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