A former soldier who escaped from a London prison was facing charges of spying for Iran, according to reports.
Daniel Abed Khalife, 21, went missing from Wandsworth prison, where he was awaiting trial for a terrorism offence, after allegedly planting a fake bomb at an RAF base and gathering information that might be useful to terrorists or enemies of the UK.
Mr Khalife was facing accusations that he passed information to Iran, the BBC and Daily Mail reported.
Security has been tightened at UK airports as police hunt for the recently discharged soldier who escaped on Wednesday, weeks before his trial on terrorism charges.
Ports are on alert after security was tightened at airports as far north as Manchester, leading to delays for air travellers.
Kent Police confirmed parts of the M20 motorway were temporarily shut due to the enhanced security checks at the port of Dover and to allow freight heading for mainland Europe to queue on the empty section of the road.
There were some queues at Heathrow airport security on Wednesday, but it is “operating as normal”, while Gatwick airport confirmed that more security measures were put in place.
Mr Khalife was last seen wearing a white T-shirt, red-and-white-checked trousers, and brown steel-toecap boots, the Metropolitan Police said. He is slim, with short brown hair.
He is said to have used makeshift straps to tie himself to the underside of a grocery van, which then drove him out of the prison. He went missing shortly before 8am.
But there was a delay of about an hour between prison officials noticing he was missing and contacting the police, according to reports. The jail was put on lockdown after he fled.
Former Met Police detective Perry Benton told the BBC there is “every likelihood he has now left the UK” by any number of possible means, including by train or via ports after “carefully planning” the escape.
Police have released the route of a delivery lorry to which they believe Mr Khalife strapped himself as part of his escape from prison.
More than 150 officers and staff have been working round the clock to try to apprehend Mr Khalife, the force said.
Authorities said he was declared missing at 7.50am on Wednesday and they were notified at 8.15am, when they took immediate action to track down the delivery lorry that had left the prison.
Investigators will be scouring CCTV, which will be “the biggest clue” and they will be “literally trawling every area where that van went, to identify when he managed to get off the van and where he went from there”.
Officers will be looking for the delivery driver and assessing whether Mr Khalife has access to a mobile phone, as well as how he was able to fund the escape.
Family, friends, prison inmates and former colleagues in the armed forces will be questioned, and officers will also examine letters and phone calls he received in prison.
Commander Dominic Murphy, head of the Met's counter-terrorism division, said: “This was a really busy area of London and we've had no confirmed sightings in any of that information, which is a little unusual, and perhaps testament to Daniel Khalife's ingenuity in his escape and some of his movements after his escape.
“It's important that we remember that we have some of the best military in the world here in the UK and he was trained.
“He was a trained soldier – so ultimately he has skills that perhaps some sections of the public don't have.”
Mr Khalife appeared at the Old Bailey in late July and denied the charges against him.
He is accused of eliciting or trying to elicit information that could be useful for a terrorist on August 2, 2021, and breaching the Official Secrets Act by gathering information that could be useful to an enemy between May 1, 2019, and January 6, 2022.
The Ministry of Defence confirmed that Mr Khalife was discharged from the army in May this year.
The Prison Service said it was working with police to recapture Mr Khalife and was “urgently investigating how he escaped”, a representative said.
Government minister Michelle Donelan acknowledged that the public would be concerned about the incident, but insisted prison escapes were incredibly rare and the incident was being looked into.
Ms Donelan said there were questions to answer, including over the type of prison at which Mr Khalife was being held, with HMP Wandsworth – a category B prison – having the second-highest level of security.
“This is not an epidemic or anything of that nature. This is an isolated incident,” she told broadcaster ITV.
Prof Ian Acheson, a former head of security at Wandsworth, told the BBC that Mr Khalife's escape was “at best” a “catastrophic system failure”, and said that the prison was in free fall.
“It's incredibly embarrassing for the prison service but it's not entirely surprising given what we know about what's going on Wandsworth at the moment,” he said.
“I mean, frankly, if you cannot even manage to get the bins emptied in a place like Wandsworth what else is going wrong?”
The UK's opposition Labour Party demanded that the government urgently explain how Mr Khalife escaped.
Justice Secretary Alex Chalk said he would be speaking to the governor of the prison.
London's Metropolitan Police said in a statement that transport centres were being screened.
“An alert was issued by the Counter-Terrorism Command earlier today in relation to Khalife through established operational briefing channels to relevant UK police and law-enforcement agencies, including those at UK ports and borders.”
Heathrow airport said it introduced more thorough checks at boarding points, while a London Gatwick representative said: “Additional security measures are currently in place … we apologise for any delays passengers may experience.”
The Port of Dover reported “some delays” at the border “due to a police matter”. Manchester airport reported delays of about 30 minutes.
Mr Khalife was held at Belmarsh prison but later transferred to Wandsworth, according to reports.
He has links to north-west England and Kingston in London but Mr Murphy said the hunt is covering the whole of the UK.
Mr Khalife was previously stationed at the Ministry of Defence's Beacon Barracks in Stafford.
The barracks are home to the Royal Corps of Signals 1st Signal Brigade, the Defence Electronics Agency, the RAF Joint Helicopter Command's Tactical Supply Wing and No 22 Group air force cadets.
According to reports, he described his role on social media as being a computer specialist with skills including information technology and system administration.
The former serviceman is also accused of a criminal offence relating to the alleged bomb hoax.
It is claimed that he placed “three canisters with wires on a desk in his accommodation”.
He reportedly wanted to create the impression in others that a device was “likely to explode or ignite and thereby cause personal injury or damage to property”.
Mr Khalife's trial date has been set for November 13 at Woolwich Crown Court in London.