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Man arrested for terror act converted to Christianity and had mental health problems

24th Jul 2020

Elham Asaad Buaras

The 25-year-old Libyan refugee who was charged under anti-terror laws for the random murder of three people in Reading had converted to Christianity, got a tattoo of a cross on his arm and had mental health problems, his cousin told The Telegraph.

Khairi Saadallah was ruled out as possible terrorist twice in two years, both Prevent and MI5 deemed him not worth investigation. Shortly before 7 pm on June 20, a man with a knife attacked people picnicking in Forbury Gardens in Reading. Three men died from their wounds, and three others were seriously injured.

Saadallah was arrested at the scene. Those who knew him described him as an unpredictable character who smoked cannabis — a habit which friends believed affected his personality.

His cousin said Saadallah suffered from a mental health condition that meant he heard voices in his head and had psychotic episodes for which he took medication, “He always said it was like someone cast a spell on him, he thought people were following him,” she said.

His cousin, 36, who does not want to be identified, was with family who had gathered at his parents’ house in Libya as they desperately sought information from police and tried to come to terms with the news of his arrest. She told how Saadallah had visited the UK several times before deciding to move permanently and eventually convert to Christianity.

“He felt his life was at risk in Libya because he did not live like a Muslim, he drank, he had girlfriends, he partied, he was essentially British.

When he claimed asylum, Libya was his homeland but England was his home,” she told The Telegraph. Saadallah was 17 when he moved to Bury, Greater Manchester, studying computing and communications at college and living with friends.

“The reason he left Libya was the killing all around,” she said. “He hated the violence. He tried to help solve the problem, that’s what made him depressed.” Friends in Manchester said he was famed for his house parties. One said, “He was always keen to speak about the violence in Libya.

But I always got the impression he was just a bit lonely, he had left his country and his family and just wanted to be around people. That’s why he was always organising parties, he enjoyed company.”

Another friend who knew him in Bury said: “He lived in a houseshare with various people from different countries. He had crazy friends; they had big parties every other month. He would describe himself as a Libyan soldier and said he had escaped because he didn’t want to be in the Army.”

He described him as a good friend but also said he was aware he had mental health issues. “He definitely had something wrong with his head.”

In 2014, he settled in Reading working in hospitals and with the elderly. He lived with an older cousin in a small block of flats on Prospect Street. A neighbour there said, “Khairi was very quiet, rarely spoke and wore very Western clothes.”

Three years ago, Saadallah started dating a British woman who was “very religious” and started going to church. He converted to Christianity and even got a tattoo of a cross on his arm, according to his cousin. “He’s not Muslim any more,” she said. “It’s like he’s always been in the UK.”

The couple have since split up. Saadallah had a “very bad mental disturbance” which was exasperated when he went to prison in 2017 for a minor terrorist offence, she said.

“He was on anxiety medication he had terrible nightmares and daydreams and heard voices but although he’d had his troubles, I can’t believe he’d do anything like this or be involved in anything to do with terrorism,” she said. She confirmed he had only recently been released from prison but said he had been to the local Job Centre and had got a job.

In 2018, he is understood to have been assessed by Prevent and found to have no clear ideology. He was deemed to need additional mental health support. In the same year, he was granted asylum in the UK.

In the middle of last year, MI5 had Saadallah under investigation as a person who might travel to Libya “for extremist reasons.” That claim was found to lack credibility, and he was assessed as being far from the legal threshold for investigation.

Detectives are also examining his mental health history. Saadallah had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and an emotionally unstable personality disorder.

On June 22 Home Secretary, Priti Patel, told MPs the threat to the UK from “lone actor” terrorists is growing, after the third attack in seven months by an individual apparently acting alone.“It is clear that the threat posed by lone actors is growing,” she said.

“These terrorists are united by the same vile hate that rejects the values that our country holds dear: decency, tolerance and respect.” The Reading incident occurred as new Europol report has warned that recent violent attacks by radicalised mentally ill people are ‘impossible to distinguish’ from terrorism.

The European police agency said that incidents carried out by mentally ill people who have been influenced by hate speech and fake news could be classed as terrorism in its EU Terrorism Situation and Trend Report released on June 23.

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