London terror attack: another arrest and another death

The body of a 45-year-old Frenchman, found downstream from the bridge, brings the number who died in Saturday's vehicle and knife attack to 8.

An undated photo of French national Xavier Thomas, 45, who was missing after the terrorist attack on London Bridge on June 3, 2017. Photo: EPA
Powered by automated translation

LONDON // Police searching for a French man who has been missing since the London Bridge attack say they have recovered a body from the River Thames.

The body was found Tuesday downstream from the bridge. He was named as Xavier Thomas, and though formal identification has not yet taken place, his next of kin have been informed.

If confirmed, Thomas, 45, would be the eighth person killed in the vehicle and knife attack. He was in London for the weekend with his girlfriend and was over the bridge to the south bank when the attack began on Saturday night.

Police said earlier that witness accounts suggested he might have been thrown into the river. Thomas’ girlfriend was hit and seriously injured by the van.

Early on Wednesday, police arrested a 30-year-old man in East London in connection with the attack and searched his home.

Two men are now in custody on suspicion of violating the Terrorism Act. They have not been identified or charged. All others who had been arrested have been released without charge.

The Italian mother of Youseff Zaghba, the last of the three terrorists to be named, said her son had done “a horrible thing” and vowed to educate young people about the true meaning of Islam.

Valeria Collina, a Muslim convert, said she had told Italian airport authorities to detain her son after he was stopped on March 15 last year on his way to Turkey with a one-way ticket.

Ms Collina said her son, whose father is Moroccan, had become radicalised during the last year while living in London.

“When I went to England, he was a bit more rigid, but not so much,” Ms Collina said on Wednesday. “But from his face, from his look, I could tell there had been a radicalisation, as they say. And this happened in England.” Her son had always been self-critical, she added, but he wanted to go to Syria to start a family — not to fight — since he believed that he could find “pure Islam” there.

Britain’s failure to keep tabs on Zaghba despite being warned about him by Italian authorities was understandable, Italy’s top policeman said on Wednesday.

Zaghba, 22, was identified by the Italian authorities as a potential jihadist after he was stopped at Bologna airport in March 2016 on his way to Syria, via Turkey.

They tipped off the authorities in Britain and Morocco about him, but for reasons that are still unclear he was not on the radar of British police and intelligence services before Saturday’s attack.

“We have the record of the notification and our conscience is clear,” said Franco Gabrielli, the chief of Italy’s State Police. “But as we are very aware of the responsibilities involved, we understand the distress and difficulties faced by those who have to manage such a complicated situation.”

Italy was in an easier position than countries like Britain, which had to deal with “innumerable” notifications of potentially dangerous individuals, he said.

Mr Gabrielli, who is also in charge of Italy’s department of public security, said investigators had found material from extremist websites on Zaghba’s mobile phone. That was enough to warrant the warning to Britain and Morocco, but not to take further action against him, he said.

“We can’t charge people simply because they visit certain internet sites,” he said. “The possibility of forging links, exchanging ideas and discussing causes, these are some of our fundamental freedoms.”

Mr Gabrielli was speaking from the Italian island of Lampedusa at the first meeting of police chiefs from eight southern European countries in a new forum, the European Relationship for Mediterranean Security, aimed at boosting cooperation on terrorism and migration.

As well as Zaghba, British intelligence agencies also knew about the Khuram Shazam Butt’s extremist views. He had even appeared in a TV documentary about extremists entitled The Jihadis next Door.

The attack, and the earlier attacks in Manchester and near the British Houses of Parliament in London, have prompted prime minister Theresa May to call for tougher counterterrorism laws even if it means changing human rights protections.

Reaction to the attack has dominated the final days of campaigning before Thursday’s general election, with opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and others criticising Mrs May for cutting police numbers by roughly 20,000 during her tenure as home secretary, the British equivalent of interior minister..

* Associated Press and Agence France Presse