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UK: Terror suspect Daniel Khalife who absconded from prison arrested
A former soldier who absconded from a prison kitchen by strapping himself to the underside of a delivery van was caught after being pulled off a pushbike by a plain-clothes officer, police have said.
Daniel Abed Khalife, 21, was apprehended just before 11am on Saturday on a canal towpath in Northolt, west London, and is in police custody, the force said.
Commander Dominic Murphy, the Metropolitan police’s counter-terrorism chief, said: “It’s been about 75 hours since he went missing from the prison to the point of his arrest. That’s pretty quick given the challenge of trying to find this individual.
“In terms of the investigation, it really gathered momentum yesterday afternoon, with a number of calls from the public, but really took a different course last night, when we did an intelligence-led search in the Richmond area in the early hours of this morning.
“Whilst we didn’t find him at that search, while we were at that search, we had a number of calls from the public over the next hour or two, giving us various sightings of him.”
He said that after Khalife was pulled off the bike, he was “fully cooperative and handcuffed and arrested”.
Footage published by the Sun showed Khalife sitting on the ground next to the Grand Union Canal after his arrest. He was found with a bike, sleeping bag and a Waitrose shopping bag full of food.
Rishi Sunak praised the efforts by the police and public in finding Khalife. Speaking to broadcasters at the G20 summit venue in Delhi, India, the prime minister said: “I’m very pleased with the news and my thanks to the police officers for their fantastic work over the past couple of days, but also to the public, who came forward with an enormous number of leads to help the police in their inquiries.”
The home secretary, Suella Braverman, also praised the work of police and intelligence workers in tracking down Khalife.
Writing on social media, she said:
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The Home Office minister, Chris Philp, congratulated the police on their work to apprehend the suspect.
The policing minister wrote on social media: “Great work by the Met police. Well done for a rapid and effective piece of work to catch this fugitive. An example of policing at its best. Congratulations to all officers involved in this operation.”
Murphy said the force was informed of two sightings in the Chiswick area. The last confirmed sighting of the suspect was in the Church Street and Chiswick Mall area, he added.
Residents in the area had heard helicopters overhead throughout the morning as police descended on the area with police dogs as they searched residents’ gardens, and were seen stopping cars, inspecting car boots and asking residents for their ID throughout the morning.
Paul Wade said he had opened his curtains to find five police officers outside his home earlier on Saturday. The 79-year-old told the PA news agency: “They were checking everybody’s gardens. Our neighbour told us there were sniffer dogs.
“As we understand it, they just clambered over the walls and inspected, they didn’t wake everybody up. They just checked. They had helicopters above.”
Scotland Yard had released a statement on Saturday morning and said the area of south-west London, just under 5 miles from the prison from which he escaped, was the focus of their search.
Officers said he had changed out of the prison kitchen uniform of a white T-shirt and red and white gingham trousers, into a black baseball cap, black T-shirt and dark-coloured trousers. They added that they believed he had been carrying a small bag or case.
His escape sparked a major police hunt involving 150 counter-terrorism officers, with ports and airports placed on alert and some passengers facing delays as extra checks were carried out. Officers have also been urgently trying to establish whether he had help fleeing from HMP Wandsworth.
Khalife was being held at the category B prison awaiting trial for allegedly planting a fake bomb and gathering information that might be useful to terrorists or enemies of the UK. He has denied the three charges against him.
The Bidfood van, to the underside of which he is believed to have strapped himself, left HMP Wandsworth at 7.32am on Wednesday. Khalife was declared missing at 7.50am, police were informed at 8.15am and the van was stopped at 8.37am in Upper Richmond Road.
Officers then shut off the 2,500-acre Richmond park in south-west London on Friday to search for the former soldier, but did not find him. He grew up in the area and is thought to know it well.
They then reported that Khalife had been seen walking away from a food delivery lorry at a roundabout a mile from the jail.
A close relative had told the Times that they wanted him to give himself up.
His escape provoked a furious political row, with ministers criticised over cuts and staff shortages that have left potentially dangerous inmates in low-security prisons. Khalife’s presence in a category B prison when he had been charged with such serious offences also prompted concerns that other high-risk inmates might not be held in security conditions commensurate with their alleged crimes.
The chief inspector of prisons, the chair of parliament’s justice committee and the prison officers’ union, the POA, all said HMP Wandsworth was known to have staffing issues, adding to pressure on the government over Khalife’s escape, which Labour said “beggars belief”.
Among the charges Khalife faces is that he may have collected, recorded, published or communicated sensitive information that might have been useful to an enemy, in breach of the Official Secrets Act 1911. The country in question is understood to be Iran, although it is unclear how strong the link is alleged to be.
The justice secretary, Alex Chalk, has announced independent investigations into how Khalife escaped, why he was being held in a lower-security prison, and whether other high-risk inmates may need to be moved from the jail. He said reviews would look into the placement and categorisation of all inmates at HMP Wandsworth and all held in the custodial estate charged with terrorism offences.
Chalk added: “No stone must be left unturned in getting to the bottom of what happened. Who was on duty that morning? In what roles, ranging from the kitchen to the prison gate? What protocols were in place? Were they followed?”
The ex-serviceman, formerly of Beacon Barracks, Beaconside, Stafford, is also accused of a criminal offence relating to the alleged bomb hoax. It is claimed he placed “three canisters with wires on a desk in his accommodation” with the intention of inducing in another a belief this was “likely to explode or ignite and thereby cause personal injury or damage to property”.
A trial date for the terrorism charges has been set for 13 November at Woolwich crown court.