The triple murder conviction of a Libyan man who had already been found guilty of a string of offences has brought the fact that the UK government has failed to deport 45 foreign nationals jailed for terrorism-related offences back into sharp focus.
Khairi Saadallah stabbed three people to death in a Reading park in 2020 and police later found evidence he had viewed extremist content on his phone. He had also come to the attention of security services and been given four prison sentences for violent offences.
Although there were plans for the failed asylum seeker to be deported, it was not legally possible because of the conflict in Libya. Family members of his victims have asked how Saadallah was free to commit the crimes despite evidence he had mental health problems and had come into contact with extremists in prison.
"The secretary of state needs to tell us why this guy wasn't put into some form of detention centre before they could deport him," said Gary Furlong, whose son James was murdered by Saadallah. "He was not safe to be released back on the streets."
Research by the Henry Jackson Society found 45 foreign nationals who have been jailed in the UK for Islamist-related terrorism offences have not been officially deported, including 18 with known links to currently or formerly proscribed groups.
The deportation of foreign criminals can be blocked if there are human rights concerns.
Experts have warned that the UK’s current policy towards deporting extremists threatens the public’s safety.
“The failure to deport foreign convicted terrorists poses a fundamental threat to British national security,” said Dr Rakib Ehsan, a researcher at the Henry Jackson Society.
“Many will be quite rightly appalled by the fact that non-British Islamists with links to proscribed organisations such as Islamic State and Al-Qaeda have been allowed to remain in the UK after serving a terror-related prison sentence.
“In the post-Brexit world, the UK must introduce a tougher border security arrangement by statute. For too long, the individual interests of foreign convicted terrorists have been prioritised over collective public safety,” he added.
In its research, the Henry Jackson Society found that of the 45 foreign nationals found guilty of terror-related crimes and who had not been deported, seven already had convictions before their main terrorism offence, while two went to training camps including one run by Al Qaeda in Pakistan.
The most common nationality of the foreign nationals involved is Libyan, followed by Algerian, Pakistani and Iraqi.
Of the 45, 18 had links to proscribed organisations such as ISIS, Al Qaeda, Al Muhajiroun, Al Shabab, and the Libyan Islamic Fight Group, which is no longer listed as a terrorist group.
The Henry Jackson Society also noted that a “concerning portion” of foreign nationals convicted of terror offences had an asylum background.
“The UK government needs to pursue innovative methods which help to better prioritise collective public safety, without fundamentally undermining the UK’s long-standing commitment to international legal obligations,” the researchers wrote in a recent report.