May 7, 2021 Faith Matters

Fishmongers’ Hall attacker had ‘hate in eyes’ and ‘evil intent’, inquest told

Convicted terrorist Usman Khan exposed “hate in his eyes” and “evil intent” before he launched an attack on Fishmongers’ Hall, an inquest has heard.

On November 29 2019, Khan, from Stafford, was shot dead after fatally stabbing Cambridge graduates Jack Merritt, 25, and Saskia Jones, 23, at a prisoners’ educational event in London.

Six months before, his volatile anger surfaced during an incident witnessed by a mentor, an inquest was told on Friday.

Giving evidence, the mentor told how Khan had become angry about licence conditions, having been released from jail in December 2018.

On March 4 2019, the mentor wrote: “He was quite angry about the licence conditions but he suddenly realised that he got angry and calmed down and stated today was a good session so as not to show his anger to me.”

In a later witness statement, the mentor, who cannot be named for legal reasons, wrote: “He had hate in his eyes and real evil intent that I saw emerge straight away.”

Recalling the incident, the mentor told jurors: “He was very calm, very relaxed, but when he got this negative response his whole demeanour changed and it was actually quite frightening when I saw it at that particular point.

“He was really angry and I could see his face get really tight and his eyes really intent-looking and he realised I had seen him and he quickly tried to downplay it, saying it’s OK, these things happen.”

Challenged on the difference between the initial account and his later statement, the witness denied he had “toned it down” to begin with.

Previously, the mentor said they had got on “well” and Khan was grateful for the support.

In twice weekly meetings, the mentor accompanied him to the job centre and supervised his use of the internet at the library.

The inquest heard Khan told him he was “looking at pursuing an academic career in combating extremism”.

Khan spoke of having “some sort of transformation” since he began writing which “opened his eyes”, jurors heard.

He also claimed to have challenged people more extreme than him in prison, the inquest heard.

On his connection with Learning Together which organised the Fishmongers’ Hall event, Khan told the mentor he felt “empowered by it”.

The witness said: “He said he really enjoyed being part of it. He enjoyed the writing and he was looking to pursuing something a bit more long term.”

A second mentor, who took over Khan’s case in March 2019, went on to describe him as a “manipulative” man who attempted to play an “alpha role”.

He told jurors Khan would “brag” about lifting 200 kilos at the gym when he was not actually able to lift more than 20 or 30 kilos.

When it came to martial arts, the mentor had more experience than Khan too, jurors heard.

In one of his reports, the second mentor described how Khan had said there was “nothing better and stronger than kalashnikovs (assault rifles) and diesel cars as they are the most reliable”.

Jonathan Hough QC, counsel to the coroner, said: “It seems there were a number of occasions where he reacted with sudden rudeness and aggression to fairly anodyne comments you made. Was that a theme?”

The second mentor, who cannot be identified, replied: “With him it was always a bumpy ride, it would never be stable. With him it was always an ongoing battle and trying to improve.”

Earlier, a prison psychologist told how she was “very worried” about Khan before he was released.

Ieva Cechaviciute interviewed Khan for six-and-a half hours in January 2018 at HMP Whitemoor for an Extremism Risk Guidelines (ERG) report.

On his manner during the interviews, she said: “It appeared that it was underlying anger and bitterness in his approach towards me but I think he was trying to be very polite in the interview.”

Her interviews led to the conclusion that Khan had made “little progress” in prison and did not understand his risk, the inquest heard.

Being in jail had even made him a “greater risk” and “elevated his profile”, jurors heard.

The witness also noted intelligence that Khan had radicalised others and was involved with extremist gangs.

She said it was “very difficult to see whether he made any genuine progress”.

The witness told jurors she had assessed that Khan’s risk of engaging in “extremist activity” would increase upon his release.

Mr Hough asked: “To what extent did these conclusions reflect a real cause for worry about somebody who is going to be released in eight months’ time?”

She replied: “That was very worrying to me and I really was very worried how to communicate this to whoever was reading my report, so therefore I went into a lot of detail explaining the pattern of his behaviour and trying to communicate that his risk is likely to increase when he is released.”

When confronted with incidents of violence or anything portraying him in a “negative light”, Khan responded by “rationalising it, minimising it or denying it”, she said.

While Khan might have wanted to change, he was “not being very successful at it”, she added.

When she reviewed her report with Khan, he was “very upset, very angry” and “did not see the report as valid at all”, Ms Cechaviciute said.

The witness had flagged potential warning signs to look for following his release, including lack of purpose, boredom and unemployment.

The court has previously heard that Khan’s attempts to find a job were unsuccessful and he spent time alone at home playing on his Xbox.

The inquest at the Guildhall into the victims’ deaths continues.