More than 150 police officers are searching for the terrorist suspect He escaped from a London prison By attaching himself to the underside of a delivery truck, with questions mounting as to how the daring hack was allowed to happen.
On Thursday – the second day of the search – the British government pledged to track down 21-year-old Daniel Abed Khalifa.
Khalifa staged a daring escape from Wandsworth Prison on Wednesday morning dressed as a chef. Police confirmed on Thursday that he had hung himself from a delivery truck as it was leaving prison.
The suspect is a serving member of the British Army and is awaiting trial on terrorism charges, stemming from the planting of fake bombs at a military base, according to the British news agency PA Media.
The police set the timetable for Khalifa’s escape on Thursday.
They added that the soldier was declared missing at 7:50 am. The Metropolitan Police were alerted 25 minutes later, and officers tracked down the delivery van at 8:37am just two miles east of the prison, on a street in Putney, south-west London.
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By then, Khalifa was gone and the only survivors of his escape were the officers who were discovered under the truck.
British Justice Minister Alex Chalk said that the government would launch an independent investigation into the incident. In his speech before the British Parliament on Thursday, Chalk said that he had already ordered an internal investigation into the decision to place Khalifa in a low-security prison.
“We must leave no stone unturned to get to the bottom of what happened. Who was on duty that morning, in what roles ranging from the kitchen to the prison gate, and what protocols were in place,” Chalk said.
The Minister of Justice confirmed that Khalifa “will be arrested at the appropriate time and will be brought to trial.”
Opposition MPs in Britain criticized the ruling Conservative government following the prison escape, accusing the ministers of plunging the judicial system into a dangerous state due to years of austerity programmes.
Labor politicians called on the government to explain “urgently” how Khalifa managed to escape, and asked Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to “get the situation under control”.
“We know that the criminal justice system after 13 years of Conservative government is in dire straits. We know there are major problems in prisons,” MP Shabana Mahmood was quoted as saying by PA Media.
Wandsworth Prison is located southwest of the British capital.
Gareth Fuller/Press Association/AP
Trucks line up at the Port of Dover along the A20 motorway in Kent, southeast England, on Thursday amid increased security checks.
Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper, also from the Labor Party, said the case raised concerns about why a suspect “accused of national security offences” should not be detained in a maximum security prison.
Cooper told BBC Radio 4’s Today program on Thursday that she had questions about “security checks and staffing levels” at the prison on the day of the prison break.
She added: “There have been a series of warnings about the situation in Wandsworth, including the level of staff absence and sickness, and the lack of cover for shifts.”
Last year, the UK Inspectorate of Prisons warned that staffing levels “remained a serious problem” at Wandsworth prison.
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) mentioned 30% reduction in staff available for “full operational duty” from September 2021 to June 2022.
“This has had a detrimental impact on the running of the prison, and it has been fortunate for everyone that the established, or at least basic, regulations remain in place,” HMIP said.
She added that 44% of employees “were absent or unable to carry out their regular duties” when the authority inspected the prison in September 2021.
Government officials, including Chalk, took pains to stress that escapes from British prisons were extremely rare. Data released by the UK government shows there was just one escape across England and Wales in 2021-22, none in the run-up, and only a few in the years before that.
“It is very rare for prisoners to escape. It is therefore extremely important that we investigate the matter. We are looking at all the operations that were in place,” Cabinet Minister Michelle Donelan told the Today program on Thursday.
The Metropolitan Police urged the British public to help locate Khalifa, who is of a slim build, has short brown hair and is about 6 feet 2 inches tall, according to officers.
After reports of his escape emerged on Wednesday, a police alert was issued to ports and airports, triggering additional security checks and impacting travel across the country.
On Thursday, London airports maintained “enhanced security measures.” They remain in place there, but have not caused a major disruption to operations, a Gatwick Airport spokesperson told CNN.
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