Counter terrorism police tried to keep the Streatham terrorist in prison after he told fellow inmates “I’m not finished with these non-believers yet,” an inquest has heard.
Sudesh Amman, 20, was shot dead by armed police after stabbing two passers-by with a 20cm knife in Streatham, south London, on Feb 2 2020. Both victims survived the 62-second terror attack.
On the opening day of the inquest into Amman’s death, the Royal Courts of Justice heard that on Jan 23, days before his attack, Amman was released from Belmarsh prison, where he served a 40-month sentence for terror offences.
Shortly before his release, prison officers found a pledge of allegiance to Islamic State in his cell and were informed of his extremist comments to fellow inmates regarding “non-believers”.
The intelligence was passed to police, who tried to stop Amman being released but the prison authorities said there was nothing they could do, according to Dominic Murphy, detective superintendent of the Scotland Yard’s SO15, Counter-Terrorism command.
Rob Davis, Belmarsh prison governor, told police that it would not be possible to prevent Amman’s release if a disciplinary charge were pursued, the inquest heard.
“It would have to be through an independent adjudicator, and that would not be able to take place before that early release date came up,” Jonathan Hough QC, counsel to the inquest, told the court.
The Prison Service maintains that the offence Amman had committed “would not have justified an extension of the sentence”, Mr Hough added.
Streatham knife attack
Following Amman’s release, the Metropolitan Police put him under surveillance while he stayed at his probation hostel in Leigham Court Road, Streatham, where he was required to wear an electronic GPS tag and was subject to an overnight curfew.
On Jan 28, five days before his attack, the officers following him were given authority to be armed.
On Jan 31, officers observed Amman browsing tools in shops on Streatham High Road – where he would go on to launch his stabbing frenzy – and saw him purchase a roll of brown tape, four bottles of Irn-Bru soft drink and a roll of aluminium foil, which they believed could be used to make a fake suicide vest.
The events prompted the Met Police to upgrade their surveillance to 24 hours a day, the inquest heard.
On Feb 2, Amman was seen leaving his probation hostel at 1.22pm, wearing a camouflage jacket, a grey hat, grey traditional dress and a white JD Sports bag.
He was followed by a team of nine surveillance officers, including one on a motorbike and others in cars and on foot, with one noting that he was walking very slowly and “almost aimless”.
Amman then entered the Low Price General Store at 1.57pm, where he was inside for less than a minute before grabbing a knife off the shelves and bursting out of the shop.
Two surveillance officers, known only as BX87 and BX75 for legal reasons, were metres behind Amman when he emerged and immediately started chasing him down the road.
But within seconds, Amman had stabbed a woman in the back outside the White Lion public house before going on to stab a man in the right side of his torso.
One of the officers opened fire six times at Amman, who was wearing the fake suicide vest they suspected him of shopping for days earlier, but only two rounds hit him. One shattered the shop front of a Lidl supermarket. The impact with the glass window injured one woman who was walking past, the inquest heard.
As Amman reached a Boots store, he turned to the officers still holding the knife, prompting the officers to open fire again, striking him in the neck and abdomen. The cause of death was given as haemorrhage from his wounds.
Streatham terror attack
Amman, the son of Sri Lankan parents who came to the UK in 1999, was first brought to the attention of police in 2016, when he was arrested for attacking a fellow pupil at Jubilee Academy in Harrow with a weapon.
He later moved to Barnet Southgate College, where he was excluded in 2017 due to fighting, and months later he was convicted of being in possession of cannabis and threatening a person with a weapon in a public place.
In May 2018, following a Met Police investigation named Operation Deepish, Amman was arrested on suspicion of preparing acts of terrorism after he was identified as the user of a Telegram account named “stranger to this world” that was posting extremist material, including calling for an attack on a gay rights speaker.
Police seized his personal computer, upon which they found Islamist extremist material, including a recipe for making explosive devices.
Amman, from Harrow in north-west London, was subsequently jailed for three years and four months after pleading guilty in Nov 2018 to six counts of possessing material useful for terrorism and seven counts of disseminating terrorist material online.
“While in prison he appeared to retain an extremist mindset and appeared still intent on carrying out acts of violence on his release,” Mr Hough told the inquest. “He also seemed to feel he had celebrity status as a result of being convicted of terrorist offences.”
During a search of his cell in 2019, prison officers found handwritten notes in Arabic that “appeared to show a pledge of loyalty to the leader of Islamic State,” Mr Hough said.
On Jan 3 2020, three weeks before his release, he was involved in a protest about the death of another prisoner in custody and jumped on the netting between floors.
As a result, he was moved into the segregation unit and while there, there were “significant reports” that he had told another prisoner he was “not finished with these non-believers yet”.
Amman was charged with endangering the lives of others by jumping on the nets between prison landings and Alexis Boon, detective chief superintendent, wrote to the prison governor expressing concerns about Amman’s release.
However, the authorities insisted that Amman was entitled to release on Jan 23 without approval from the parole board and it would not be possible to arrange independent adjudication before his release date.
Amman’s family questioned why he was not arrested instead of being put under surveillance and then shot.
Rajiv Menon QC, for the family, suggested that the prison authorities could have sought to charge him for possession of the note pledging allegiance to IS.