Today marks the first anniversary of the day Stoke-on-Trent born Usman Khan murdered two young people in a knife rampage before being shot dead on London Bridge.
Khan – wearing a fake suicide vest – armed himself with two knives and stabbed Cambridge University graduates Saskia Jones, aged 23, and Jack Merritt, aged 25, to death during a prisoner rehabilitation event at Fishmongers’ Hall in London.
His killing spree only came to an end when he was tackled by members of the public with a narwhal tusk, a decorative pike and a fire extinguisher.
Moments later, armed police took him out.
One year on, StokeonTrentLive looks back at the Stoke-on-Trent schoolboy who idolised Osama bin Laden and would grow up to be a terrorist.
“Everyone who knows me is shocked because they know I am not the sort of person I am being made out to be,” said 17-year-old Usman Khan.
“I am born and bred in this country and I don’t agree with the killing of innocent people.”
For a teenager whose sister’s home in Cobridge had just been raided by police, Khan was full of righteous indignation.
It was July 2008 and the former Haywood High School pupil was talking animatedly to The Sentinel. The conversation was to be one of a series we had with him over the ensuing months.
Khan – who also went by the name of Abu Saif back then – would even ring us up, inviting us to ‘press conferences’ so he could put his side of things.
He was part of a group of young Muslim activists from Stoke-on-Trent, who manned a stall every Monday in Waterloo Road, Cobridge, where they handed out leaflets.
They claimed their activities were aimed at turning other teenagers away from gang crime and holding ‘open debate’ to try to convert people to Islam.
But Staffordshire Police suspected the group was promoting violent extremism and was involved in radicalising members of the community. It led to five homes being raided across the city under the Terrorism Act.
Khan found himself on the radar of the security services for the first time.
He had been staying at his sister’s home in 2008, although he wasn’t present when officers arrived that summer’s day.
“The police were welcome to come and speak to us at our stall, or come and look in my house. I would have invited them in for a chat and a cup of tea,” he retorted after the raid.
“But they came to my house at 7am and knocked my door off its hinges. I think that’s disgusting.”
Officers seized computers, literature and vehicles in the terror operation. But the lads were undeterred and returned to the stall the following week, claiming they felt ‘betrayed’ by the police.
It took 20 months before the investigation drew to a close. The Crown Prosecution Service ruled there was insufficient evidence to prosecute anyone for either terrorism or public order offences.
Exactly when Khan became radicalised is not known. But there were reports he had a picture of Osama bin Laden on one of his old school books.
In his later teens, two figures became particularly influential in his thinking. One was the Yemeni-American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. The other was Islamist preacher Anjem Choudary, leader of the Al-Muhajiroun group banned under anti-terrorism legislation.
He became a friend of Choudary, who was a guest speaker at a conference on Sharia law in March 2009. Khan had helped to organise the event at Cobridge Community Centre.
Posing for Sentinel pictures at the conference, his piercing eyes glanced off into the distance as his mentor Choudary smiled at the camera.
Khan remained adamant that the police had no right to stop their leafleting activities.
He told The Sentinel: “We are going to carry on until the last breath. Because we believe this is the truth.”
It would be some time before he hit the headlines again. At the tail end of 2010, he was arrested and charged with terror offences.
It emerged that Khan, who was living in Persia Walk, Tunstall, was immersed in a terrorist network, stretching from Stoke-on-Trent to London and Cardiff.
The men were caught plotting to blow up the London Stock Exchange – and some had even discussed targeting pubs in the Potteries.
Khan’s involvement included planning to set up a Jihadi training camp in Kashmir, disguised as a madrassa.
He and his co-conspirators – including two others from Stoke-on-Trent – were found guilty following a trial. Khan was initially given an indeterminate jail sentence, which was later reduced to 16 years on appeal.
By the time of his release on licence in December last year, he had managed to fool the authorities into believing he was de-radicalised.
He had been working with the Learning Together programme led by Cambridge University, which aimed to rehabilitate prisoners.
Khan, who moved into a flat in Stafford, had so impressed the tutors that he was used as a case study. And he was later given clearance to attend Learning Together’s conference at London’s Fishmongers’ Hall.
It was to be his final act of ‘martyrdom’. Khan, armed with knives and wearing a fake suicide vest, went on a stabbing spree at the event lon November 29, 2019.
After butchering two people, he was chased onto London Bridge as brave members of the public tried to disarm him. Police then shot him dead.
But it wasn’t until the Potteries public awoke the following morning that the full horror dawned. The murderer had been ‘born and bred’ – and radicalised – in the city.
Usman Khan timeline
Khan and other members of the Stoke-on-Trent terror cell meet up with other like-minded groups from Cardiff and London
Trial of nine men, including the group from the Potteries, begins at Woolwich Crown Court
Khan, and three others from the Potteries, are jailed for terrorism offences. Khan received an indefinite sentence for his role
March 21 2013
Five of those sentenced, including Khan, appeal against the length of their jail terms
April 16 2013
Usman Khan is one of the group who had their jail terms cut – having his sentence reduced from indefinite to 16 years
Khan is released on licence and is believed to have found accommodation in Stafford
November 29 2019
Police are called to reports of a stabbing on London Bridge. Two people are killed and three injured before the attacker is shot and killed by armed police.
November 30 2019
Shortly after midnight Metropolitan Police confirmed the man who had been shot by police was Usman Khan and that he had previously been jailed for terrorism offences
November 30 2019
The Metropolitan Police confirm they are searching homes in Stoke-on-Trent and Stafford as the investigation continues.
November 30 2019
Police set up on both Lanehead Road in Etruria and and Wolverhampton Road in Stafford – the latter being where Khan is believed to have been living.
December 1 2019
Police remain at the scene on Wolverhampton Road in Stafford
December 1 2019
West Midlands Police Counter Terrorism Unit remain on Lindley Street in Cobridge
December 4 2019
An inquest opens into the deaths of victims Saskia Jones and Jack Merritt both died after suffering a stab wound to the chest
December 6, 2019
Khan’s body is flown to Pakistan for burial
December 10, 2019
Vile graffiti supporting Khan is daubed on a boarded-up Midland Heart property at the junction of Rushton Road and Waterloo Road in Cobridge.
December 18, 2019
The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) continues its inquiry into whether Staffordshire Police should have done more to stop Khan
December 22, 2019
It emerges a former Scotland Yard officer who mentored n Khan following his release claims he raised a ‘red flag’ eight months before the knife rampage
January 7, 2020
It’s revealed Khan ‘received £350,000 in legal aid’ over his earlier bomb plot.
August 8, 2020
A major report is published into why Khan was allowed to travel to capital before killing spree
October 19, 2020
A pre-inquest review hears Khan killed two young people following a string of failings, from Prevent officer training in Staffordshire to a lack of ‘rudimentary’ bag checks