UK police name third attacker as new search gets underway
LONDON — British police have named the third London Bridge attacker as 22-year-old Youssef Zaghba and said he is believed to be an Italian national of Moroccan descent.
Police said Tuesday he lived in east London and that his family has been notified, adding that he was not considered to be a “subject of interest” to either police or the intelligence services.
The other two attackers were named Monday as Khuram Shazad Butt and Rachid Redouane.
The three, who were wearing fake suicide vests, were shot dead late Saturday after ramming a van into pedestrians on London Bridge and then slashing and stabbing people in nearby Borough Market. During the attack, seven people were killed and dozens more were wounded.
The Italian daily Corriere della Sera reported Tuesday that Youssef Zaghba had been stopped in Italy while trying to go to Syria in 2016.
Zaghba, who is said to have been born in Morocco to a Moroccan father and an Italian mother, was stopped at Bologna’s Marconi airport on March 15, 2016, while he tried to take a flight to Turkey. He was allegedly on his way to Syria and was carrying only a backpack.
The report said Italy had put him on a watch list and flagged his presence to Moroccan and British authorities. The parents lived for a time in Morocco before separating when the mother returned to Italy and re-established herself in Bologna.
Zaghba was reportedly working in a London restaurant and had not been seen in Italy since 2016.
A British government official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about the investigation confirmed the details of the Italian report, and said the man had not been considered a “person of interest,” meaning they had no reason to think he was violent or planning an attack.
The identity of the last attacker in Saturday’s attack came as a new search got underway in a neighborhood in east London near the home of two of the London Bridge attackers. The search in Ilford, just north of Barking, is seeking to determine whether the group had accomplices.
London police have said all 12 people held since the attack from the Barking neighborhood, have been freed.
The attack, the third in Britain in three months involving suspects who had been on the radar of British authorities, has raised questions over the government’s ability to protect Britain following cuts to police numbers in recent years. All three attacks have been claimed by the Islamic State group.
Security has become a key issue in the run-up to Thursday’s general election. In particular, there are questions over whether investigators had the resources to look into complaints such as those leveled by Butt’s neighbors about his attempts to radicalize children and whether crucial opportunities were missed.
Butt had appeared in a documentary “The Jihadis Next Door” and was known to investigators but police said he was not believed to be plotting an attack. The second man, Rachid Redouane, had not aroused any suspicions.
The Islamic gym where Butt worked out said Tuesday they had seen nothing of concern during his time there. In a letter posted outside Tuesday, the Ummah Fitness Centre said staff would “help the police in any way we can.”
Neighbors described Butt as an avid weightlifter and Transport for London confirmed he worked for London Underground in customer service before leaving last October.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said questions would need to be asked about what the police knew about Butt. He has said cuts in the number of police officers have had an impact on the ability to prevent attacks.
Prime Minister Theresa May, who called the snap election in hopes of strengthening her mandate for discussions over Britain’s exit from the European Union, has come under fire for the cuts to police numbers over recent years. A string of opinion polls over the past couple of weeks have pointed to a narrowing in the gap between her Conservative Party and the main opposition Labour Party.
The number of police officers in England and Wales fell by almost 20,000 between 2010 and 2016 — years when May, as home secretary, was in charge of policing.
Much of the area around London Bridge remained cordoned off as commuters struggled to work in the driving rain.
The area around Borough Market is not expected to reopen Tuesday.
The nearby London Bridge station was operational though one of the exits that leads to the cordoned off area on Borough High Street remained closed.
Transport for London, which oversees the capital’s transport network, has advised commuters to make alternative journeys as the station will be busy.
A minute’s silence was observed in Britain at 11 a.m. local time (1000 GMT) in memory of those killed during the attack.
The country’s official terror threat level remains at “severe,” one notch down from the highest.
It had been set at “critical” in the days after the Manchester concert bombing on May 22 that killed 22 people — reflecting a judgment that an attack might be imminent because accomplices with similar bombs might be on the loose.
It was lowered once intelligence agencies were comfortable this wasn’t the case. Authorities have said the London attack was apparently unconnected to the Manchester bombing.