On August 13, 2017, suspected al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) gunmen opened fire on a Turkish restaurant and hotel in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. 19 people were killed and 22 others were wounded.
This is the second in a series of briefings on events at the Inquest into the death of convicted terrorist Sudesh Amman. Full details of the circumstances of the Inquest and the highlights of week one are here.
This week’s evidence focused on the operational response to Amman, before and after he emerged from a hardware store on Streatham High Road London on February 2, 2020, armed with a stolen kitchen knife. Witnesses included the strategic and tactical commanders of the police surveillance operation, those armed officers who confronted and shot the assailant, civilian eyewitnesses, and the pathologist who determined the cause of death. Here are some of the highlights of this week’s testimony.
The first witness was an anonymised senior counterterrorism police officer, BX88, who commanded Operation Osmious, the armed surveillance response authorised on 1st and 2nd of February. On 1st February, covert surveillance showed Amman taking an interest in knives in a shop but not purchasing any. BX88 recorded this intelligence as, ‘I am satisfied that the subject has not breached his bail conditions and ... is not arrestable. Looking at the items in question is also of concern but again not arrestable.’
In fact, the reference is to Amman’s licence conditions not bail that were the responsibility of the probation service to set up and monitor once Amman had been automatically released from prison. The police had previously testified that Amman’s compliant behaviour left them no room to arrest him on suspicion of terrorism offences either—removing both means of getting Amman back off the streets and into custody as the threat he posed escalated. BX88 explained the counterterrorism police ‘tipping point’ doctrine that sets parameters of behaviour by terrorist suspects that when breached require an operational response. Again, though the armed covert surveillance of Amman when he was on the streets was a proportionate response, BX88 maintained that tipping points had not been breached until seconds before the attack commenced. Under examination by counsel for Amman’s family, it was revealed that police had anticipated that he might buy a knife and had determined that if that knife were purchased in packaging and brought back to his probation hostel, it would not constitute an offence as the knife could be for ‘legitimate’ purposes. However, when next Amman, referred to in Operation Osmious by the code name ‘shadow cloak’, left the premises the plan was that he would be stopped and searched by armed officers. In the event, Amman stole a knife from a hardware shop on the day of the attack. He was shot and subdued by armed police some 62 seconds later after attacking and stabbing two shoppers, crying ‘Allahu Akbar.’
The tactical firearms commander, witness DS51, revealed that the surveillance team on the day of the attack (and before) had observed Amman leaving his probation hostel and indulging in what could have been counter-surveillance techniques. He was also seen on the day of the attack to be carrying an empty plastic bag clutched to his chest. DS51 said that he had not been updated on this behaviour and he was also unaware of previous intelligence about the purchase of materials that were in the event used to construct the fake suicide vest Amman wore for his attack. Another witness, an intelligence analyst, had briefed the police armed surveillance teams that the purchase of bottles, tin foil, and masking tape gave him the ‘honest-held belief that those items could be used in a fake suicide belt.’
DS51’s reaction on being informed that Amman had stabbed shoppers and had been shot by officers was, ‘Utter disbelief.’
Other witnesses supplied the timeline of Amman’s attack on 2nd February. At 1.22 p.m., he leaves his probation hostel. By 1.47 p.m. when he reaches Streatham High Road, he is under covert surveillance by nine officers, the majority of them armed with pistols. In the 62 seconds that elapse before he is shot, Amman stabs a male and female shopper and then confronts two of the surveillance officers who are armed with Glock pistols. One officer stated, ‘Immediately after he stabbed the lady I heard him shout really clearly “Allahu Akbar.” It was at this point it dawned on me it was a terror attack and he was looking to attack numerous people.’ CCTV shown to the jury shows Amman pivoting 180 degrees on the street to charge at officers, closing the gap between him and them within half a second. Both officers, fearing for their own lives and believing that Amman was intent on attacking more civilians discharge their firearms firing six shots. Giving evidence, the pathologist who conducted the post-mortem (autopsy) on Amman, stated he was struck either three or four times before falling to the ground. He sustained these injuries at 1.59 p.m. Because of the fears he was wearing a genuine suicide vest, paramedics were unable to approach him until bomb disposal experts declared the area safe at 3.24 p.m. when they declared life extinct. The pathologist, referring to the injuries sustained by Amman, agreed that in his experience they were ‘not survivable’ even if aid had been able to arrive earlier.
The Inquest continues and is scheduled to conclude this week. This will include clarification from HM Prison and Probation Service on legal ways to detain a prisoner after his automatic release date. This issue was discussed in week one in the Inquest when the police tried and failed to persuade HMP Belmarsh to keep Amman in custody after concerns that he was intent on conducting an attack on release.
When violent incidents occur, many people are simply stunned into inaction. Sometimes this can mean the difference between life and death. Others, however, maintain the presence of mind to respond to the injured. This bravery was encapsulated in a statement read to the court from Amman’s male victim who received serious stab wounds but survived. ‘…a man and lady came and took their tops off and tried to stop the bleeding. The man and lady got out of a car to help me. They cut off my top to save my life. I will never forget them.’
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