A “committed jihadist” who “executed” three men with a knife in a Reading park has been jailed for life.
Khairi Saadallah used his combat experience to carry out the “swift, ruthless and brutal” series of murders in under ten seconds during an assault at Forbury Gardens on 20 June, a judge said.
He killed history teacher James Furlong, 36, scientist David Wails, 49, and US citizen Joseph Ritchie-Bennett, 39, each with a single thrust of the knife.
The defendant had previously admitted three murders and three attempted murders, relating to three further people he injured.
But his legal team has insisted he was not motivated by ideology, nor had he substantially prepared or planned the killings.
Prosecutors said Saadallah viewed the killings as an act of jihad.
Justice Sweeney, sentencing, said the defendant had substantially planned the attack and was motivated by a “political, religious or ideological cause”.
Saadallah, of Reading, who was formerly involved with Libyan militias, was given a whole life order at the Old Bailey on Monday. He showed no reaction when he was sentenced.
The victims, who were “doing nothing more than sitting in gardens”, were each killed with a single thrust from Saadallah’s knife, the judge said.
“His attack on them was so swift, ruthless and brutal that none of them had any chance to react, let alone to defend themselves,” he continued.
“Using his combat experience in each of their cases the defendant targeted a vulnerable area where a single thrust of the knife would, as he intended, inevitably cause death.”
He added: “During the course of the attack and afterwards and because he was seeking to advance a political, religious or ideological cause, the defendant was shouting in Arabic, ‘God is the greatest’ and ‘God accept my jihad’.”
The judge did not accept Saadallah was suffering from mental illness when the killings took place.
Justice Sweeney said he had “no doubt that this is a rare and exceptional case in which just punishment requires you must be kept in prison for the rest of your life”.
The victims’ families appeared emotional as Saadallah, who also received concurrent 24-year prison terms fo each count of attempted murder, was sentenced.
The court previously heard that Saadallah fled to the UK in 2012 from Libya but failed to get asylum. In Libya he was involved with militias in the uprising against Muammar Gaddafi.
He was heard to shout “Allahu Akbar” as he launched the attack, and in the same minute that he killed the three victims, he injured their friend Stephen Young, as well as nearby Patrick Edwards and Nishit Nisudan, prosecutor Alison Morgan QC said.
“The defendant was ruthlessly efficient in his actions,” she added.
“The prosecution’s case is that the attack perpetrated by the defendant was carefully planned and executed with determination and precision.”
She said: “He believed that in killing as many people as possible that day he was performing an act of religious jihad.”
Saadallah fled the scene before being caught by police after an off-duty officer phoned 999.
The court heard he had used his phone to access Isis material, searched for if coronavirus was “a sign of the end of the world” and associated with radical preacher Omar Brooks during a stint in jail.
He bought a knife from Morrisons and carried out reconnaissance of Forbury Gardens.
Saadallah, who was released from prison on 5 June, had developed an emotionally unstable and antisocial personality disorder, worsened by alcohol and cannabis misuse, but a psychiatrist said the killings had nothing to do with the disorders or drug abuse.
Saadallah had reassured police he was “alright” and contacted a crisis team the day before the attack, later refusing to open the door to them.
Defending, Rossano Scamardella QC argued that while Saadallah’s mental condition was not the cause, his “culpability is reduced”.
He said in this case, significant amounts of planning “simply does not exist” and while his client had a “fleeting” interest in Islamist extremism it “must be viewed in the wider context of his other behaviours at the time”.
Detective Chief Superintendent Kath Barnes, head of Counter Terrorism Policing South East, described Saadallah as a “committed jihadist and was intent on killing as many people as he could”.
“It took him less than 10 seconds to kill three innocent men, and he then went on to attack and tried to kill another three men before running off towards the town centre.
“In that tiny timeframe, he changed the lives of all those involved forever.
“He has caused unspeakable hurt and distress to the families of the three men who were brutally murdered as they were relaxing and enjoying socialising with friends on a Saturday evening.”
Watch: Terrorist stabbed three people to death in less than a minute, court told