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Social justice advocate killed in London stabbing

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Content warning: the following story contains graphic language regarding death.

On Friday, Nov. 29, two Cambridge graduates, 23-year-old Saskia Jones and 25-year-old Jack Merritt, were killed in a stabbing in London. Three others were injured and remain in the hospital as of Saturday, Nov. 30. Authorities are describing the stabbing as a terrorist incident.

The attack began at Cambridge University’s Learning Together conference in a venue near London Bridge. Toby Williamson, the boss of Fishmongers’ Hall, told the BBC “the building turned into a nightmare.”

Two men, named as Lukasz and Andy, took chairs, fire extinguishers and narwhal tusks, which were hanging on the wall of the venue, to fend of the attacker, 28-year-old Usman Khan. Williamson said staff who fought Khan believed he was wearing an explosive vest.

Khan was shot dead by police on London Bridge after a group of bystanders subdued him.

According to the Pluralist, Vice Chancellor of Cambridge Stephen Toope said Khan’s victims had been taking part in an event “to mark five years of the university’s Learning Together program,” which pairs criminals with law students to study.

“This is an attack on our community and it was intended, in such, to produce a form of terror and sadness—and it has clearly done that,” Toope said. He continued by saying the fact both victims were killed by someone they were trying to help “is the greatest tragedy of all.”

Khan was released from prison last December halfway through a 16-year sentence for plotting a terrorist attack. He was connected to British Islamist Anjem Choudary, who was released in 2018. 

Following Friday’s incident, a 2008 video has resurfaced, in which Khan points out he was “born and bred in England.” 

“All the community knows me,” he told the BBC. “Like, these labels what they’re putting on us, like terrorist, this that, they will know I ain’t no terrorist.”

After his 2012 conviction, Khan continued to resist being labeled as a dangerous Islamic extremist. He asked his lawyers to be enrolled in a deradicalization program to “prove to the authorities” that he was no longer “immature,” according to a letter obtained by ITV. He said he wanted to “live [his] life as a good Muslim” and “as a good citizen of Britain.” 

Following his release from prison, Khan reportedly spoke at a fundraising dinner for Learning Together. “I cannot send enough thanks to the entire Learning Together team and all those who continue to support this wonderful community,” Khan said.

According to Metropolitan Police Commissioner Neil Basu, Khan’s release had been subject to an “extensive list of license conditions” and “to the best of [his] knowledge, [Khan] was complying with those conditions.”

Basu mentioned there was no evidence to suggest anyone else was involved in the attack.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the BBC that it was “repulsive” that someone as “dangerous” as Khan could be freed from prison after “only serving eight years.” He blamed legislation introduced under “a leftie government,” referring to an automatic release scheme introduced by the Labour Party.

“Now that I am Prime Minister, I’m going to take steps to make sure that people are not released early when they commit serious sexual, violent or terrorist offenses,” Johnson said. “I absolutely deplore the fact that this man was out on the streets, and we are going to take action against it.”

In a statement, Merritt’s family described him as a “talented boy” who “died doing what he loved.”

“Jack lived his principles; he believed in redemption and rehabilitation, not revenge, and he always took the side of the underdog,” the statement read. “We know Jack would not want this terrible, isolated incident to be used as a pretext by the government for introducing even more draconian sentences on prisoners, or for detaining people in prison for longer than necessary.”

Jones’ family said their daughter had a “great passion” for support victims of criminal justice.

“Saskia was a funny, kind, positive influence at the center of many people’s lives,” the statement read. “She had a wonderful sense of mischievous fun and was generous to the point of always wanting to see the best in all people. Saskia will leave a huge void in our lives and we would request that our privacy is fully respected.”

On Monday, Dec. 2, vigils were held in Cambridge and London to honor the victims. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and London Mayor Sadiq Khan were among those in attendance.

“The best way to defeat this hatred is not by turning on one another, but it’s by focussing on the values that bind us, to take hope from heroism of ordinary Londoners and our emergency services who ran towards danger, risking their lives to help people they didn’t even know,” Mayor Khan said.

A book of condolences is open at Guildhall Art Gallery and members of the public are invited to lay flowers outside nearby Mansion House.

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