UK failed to share details of London Bridge attacker Usman Khan as Pak remained complacent

IslamabadWritten By: Anas MallickUpdated: Jan 22, 2020, 09:58 PM IST
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Usman Khan, 28, was shot on the London bridge on the 29th of November 2019 when he tried to stab a group of people. Photograph:(WION)

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Usman Khan, 28, was shot on the London bridge on November 29 last year when he tried to stab a group of people.

In what is turning out to be a shocker of a revelation, it is now clear that the UK authorities never shared any information about the London attacker, Usman Khan, to Pakistani authorities on him being on the watchlist and even after his death the Pakistani authorities were never informed.

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Khan, 28, was shot on the London bridge on November 29 last year when he tried to stab a group of people. He was an attacker gone rogue, a situation that was immediately responded by armed police.

Usman’s family was asked by the UK authorities on where would they like the burial to be, the family said that they would want the body to be taken back to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir(PoK) to Khan’s ancestral village where they would be holding his last rites. The body of London attacker was kept by the UK authorities for five days, this while the family of Usman booked their tickets for Pakistan for his burial.

During this course of time, the UK authorities never contacted the Pakistani High Commission in London nor the Pakistani consulate in Birmingham and informed them about Khan’s dual citizenship, the fact that he had a valid secondary citizenship of Pakistan.

The fact that a secondary Pakistani national was shot in a terror-related incident as being the prime accused too was not shared. And lastly, the fact that the body was to travel to Pakistan for burial, the body of a terrorist was to travel to another country and through no diplomatic channel were the Pakistani authorities informed nor kept in the loop.

It is pertinent to mention that Pakistan and UK have multiple information-sharing mechanisms which are not just in place but are functional as well.

Usman Khan, 28, was shot on the London bridge when he tried to stab a group of people.

Investigation by this reporter reveals that Usman Khan’s body came to Pakistan through a PIA flight, the body was booked as "cargo" by a cargo handling company called Swiss Global.

The cargo was booked from Birmingham for Islamabad. The company was responsible for the immigration of Usman Khan’s body/remains as well. At the time of handing over Usman’s body, the staff of Pakistan International Airlines(PIA) was not handed his death certificate but instead was given his NICOP and the “no infection certificate”.

As per PIA’s Standard Operating Procedures(SOP), they looked up at his valid NICOP and the fact that the body was not infectious. It was only after arrival and the body travelLing to his native village Kotli near the Kashmir border, news emerged that the body that was made to travel from PIA’s flight from Birmingham to Islamabad on the December 5 was none other than Usman Khan, the 28-year-old who went rogue.

However, questions remain on how he ended up becoming a terrorist and more importantly, why weren’t authorities alerted on time.

Born in 1991, the London Bridge attacker had travelled to Pakistan at least thrice. An investigation into how Usman Khan’s body made it back to Pakistan and was buried in PoK is what made this reporter get to staggering facts in this case.

Usman Khan first traveled to Pakistan in 2006, this is when he got the National Identification Card for Overseas Pakistanis(NICOP) made which had a validity of 10 years.

He stayed in Pakistan for a period of about 55 days during his maiden visit, this is when his NICOP was made. Usman was a third-generation migrant in the UK. His grandfather initially migrated from PoK to the UK. Usman’s father too was born in PoK but was raised in the UK. Usman, on the other hand, was born and raised in the UK, he had seven siblings.

During his 2006 maiden visit, Usman made lesser friends, primarily because of his lack of ability to speak Urdu, one among them was a person who was 12 years elder to him. The same person was arrested alongside him and was sentenced. It is believed that this person was the one who played an important part in radicalizing and indoctrinating Usman.

Khan hails from a Barelvi family, the fraction within the Sunni sect of Islam that is historically and ideologically not inclined towards extremism or terrorism, however, cases of individuals are an exception. Usman was a member of Al Muhajiroon, the face of Islamic State(IS) in the UK which is linked with AQIS.

Usman travelled to Pakistan the second time in 2008, this time on his NICOP, he was in Pakistan for almost a month. It was during this time that he was already under surveillance in the UK for his “suspicious activities”, this as per open source data available on the internet of different news organizations sighting official sources.

No official documentation reflects that Usman being on the radar was shared in time by UK authorities to Pakistan. This reflects the lack of communication within the British system internally and externally both, where they couldn’t locate and track down one of their own despite the individual being back and forth from his country of origin.

The question arises that why was this not done, despite the UK vowing to work with relevant countries to counter the menace of terror, after the 7/7 London attacks.

In 2010, Usman travelled to Pakistan again for a wedding ceremony of his cousin, he was in Pakistan for 17 days. As per sources within the Pakistani dispensation, UK authorities did not put it into Pakistan’s notice once again that somebody on the UK’s watchlist was travelling to Pakistan.

Subsequently, following his return, months later he was arrested by UK authorities along with nine others, one more Pakistani national and eight other Bangladeshis and two years later were sentenced. His arrest and sentence too were kept a secret from Pakistan, the country where he had a secondary citizenship.

In 2017, after his NICOP expired, Usman reapplied for his NICOP. Usman applied for this through the Online NADRA system – as per Pakistani government sources, an inquiry in the matter showed that Usman reapplied for his NICOP online, through the computer system that he had access to during the time he was imprisoned. The question here arises that Khan, 28, was imprisoned in the high security jail, how did he manage to have access to the Internet – a question that has been left unanswered by Pakistan authorities.

The lack of sharing of data of Usman Khan by UK authorities made the obtaining of NICOP by Usman easy on his part and he faced no difficulties while getting his NICOP renewed based on the previous NICOP he already had. As per the 2011 census, there are 1.17 million Pakistani’s who live in the UK.

As per sources close to Usman’s family, the London Bridge attacker was aggrieved by the UK system for being punished harshly, he believed that he “never deserved this harsh of a verdict”.

The family of Usman Khan said that after being released from the prison, he was first living in a government hostel for six months and later shifted to an apartment of his own, away from his family. His expenses were managed by him by saving what he had got from the stipend sent by the UK government.

His family also informed villagers that they were not allowed to see him except for weekends, that too after having informed the police. The police would give them the time slot and a route to take in case if the family wanted to bring him home.

Usman, 28, was buried in his grandfather and father’s village. His body was brought back to Pakistan through a PIA flight. 

Usman who was a third-generation migrant to the UK, was born and raised there was eventually buried at the place of his ancestral origin. His body being brought back through a PIA flight is what raised alarm bells.

The lack of sharing of information and timely sharing of information is something that the UK authorities need to introspect, they should also consider countering home-grown terror and let this be a lesson to British officials that curtailing information leads to a catastrophe.

The UK needs to hold people accountable, legislation cannot wash off the deaths and terror that was witnessed in the heart of the city on that fateful day. 

Also, Pakistan too cannot be complacent about its nationals.