Third London attacker named as authorities face questions

Zaghba allegedly told police ‘I’m going to be a terrorist’ after being stopped in Bologna

Britain's police and security services are under mounting pressure over Saturday's attack in London, which killed seven people, after it emerged that two of the three attackers had known histories of extremism. Police on Tuesday named the third assailant killed by armed police on Saturday as Youssef Zaghba, a 22-year-old Morroccan-Italian man who had been placed on an Italian counter-terrorism watchlist.

Italian police said they stopped Zaghba at Bologna airport in March 2016 and prevented him from continuing his journey to Istanbul when they found material related to the so-called Islamic State, also known as Isis, on his phone. They believe he planned to travel on from Istanbul to Syria. British authorities said on Monday that he was not known to them but the Italians say that they shared information about him with other European countries, including Britain.

Another of the attackers, Khuram Butt, had been under investigation by Britain’s security service and appeared in a Channel Four documentary about Islamist extremism in London.

Campaigning for the general election on Tuesday, Theresa May faced repeated questions about how the home office, which she ran for six years, police and intelligence services dealt with the information relating to the attackers.


“I absolutely recognise people’s concerns. MI5 and the police have already said they would be reviewing how they dealt with Manchester and I would expect them to do exactly the same in relation to London Bridge,” she told Sky News.

At a rally on Tuesday night, she said she would be willing to change human rights laws if they stopped her from tackling terrorism.

“As we see the threat changing, evolving becoming a more complex threat, we need to make sure that our police and security and intelligence agencies have the powers they need.

“I mean longer prison sentences for people convicted of terrorist offences. I mean making it easier for the authorities to deport foreign terrorist suspects back to their own countries.

“And I mean doing more to restrict the freedom and the movements of terrorist suspects when we have enough evidence to know they are a threat, but not enough evidence to prosecute them in full in court.

“And if our human rights laws stop us from doing it, we will change the laws so we can do it.”

According to Italian media reports, Zaghba grew up in Morocco with his Moroccan father and Italian mother until they parted while he was still a child. After that, he apparently divided his time between Morocco and Italy, where his mother lived outside Bologna.

Before he was stopped at Bologna airport last year, he told his mother he was going to Rome, but had instead bought a one-way ticket to Istanbul, planning to travel on to Syria, Italian police believe. According to La Repubblica, when he was challenged at the airport, he told officials: "I am going to be a terrorist."

His mother told investigators that he been living in London and working in a Pakistani restaurant and that he appeared to have changed after that.

“I don’t recognise him any more. He frightens me. He spends all day in front of the computer watching incredibly strange things,” she told them.

An Italian court ruled that there was insufficient evidence of terrorism to charge Zaghba, but the security services sent an alert to London with the information gathered from his phone and from other checks carried out in Bologna. Italian reports say a complete dossier would have been forwarded to MI5 in April 2016.

As more victims of Saturday’s attack were named, a minute’s silence was held across Britain on Tuesday morning as a mark of respect for those killed or injured. On Tuesday, 15 remained in critical condition.

NHS England's chief nursing officer Jane Cummings paid tribute to Kirsty Boden, an Australian nurse who was among those killed in the attack.

"The people responsible for this heinous act showed a callous and indiscriminate disregard for human life. In contrast, Kirsty truly epitomised the values of nursing, of public service and the compassion we associate with the NHS," Prof Cummings said.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times