British police said on Friday that they are offering a reward for information on terror suspect Daniel Khalife after it emerged his family has long-standing links to Iran and Lebanon.
A witness came forward on Friday with the first confirmed sighting of Mr Khalife after his escape in Wandsworth, south London. Detectives are now offering £20,000 for more information while investigating the sighting.
The 21-year-old is awaiting trial for allegedly planting a fake bomb at an RAF base and gathering information for Iran.
“More than 150 of the Met’s counter-terrorism officers and staff, with support from colleagues across the Met and in other forces, have been working at pace around the clock, making extensive enquiries to try and find Khalife,” a statement said.
“Detectives have received information from a member of the public who said they saw a man fitting Khalife’s description walking away from a Bidfood van that had stopped near the south entrance to the Wandsworth Roundabout, at the top of Trinity Road, shortly after his escape.
“The man was then seen walking towards Wandsworth town centre.”
The suspected sighting that police had been trying to confirm was first revealed by a newsagent shop worker who said a “tall, lanky dude with dark hair” who may have been Mr Khalife was spotted, The Telegraph reported.
“There was lots of beeping by cars and people were annoyed. My friend, one of the workers at the shop, was in the shop on that morning, at around 7.30, and he went outside where he saw a man running into a black car,” a shop worker told the paper.
“The man was some tall, lanky dude with dark hair and there was a Bid food van. My friend didn’t see him getting out of the van but he saw him sprint across the street to the traffic lights.”
Mr Khalife was born in the UK and brought up with a twin sister in Kingston by his Iranian-born mother. He went to Teddington school, where he apparently did not do well.
He had not seen his father, who is Lebanese, for several years after his parents' separation, but the two reunited while he was on remand.
Speaking with The Times, a close relative of Mr Khalife revealed that he had only visited Iran twice, once as a baby and again aged between six and seven.
His family were secular Iranians who were opposed to the current regime, though they did not campaign against it, it has emerged.
His grandmother was a primary schoolteacher in Iran and his deceased grandfather was an accountant
“Danny doesn’t know Iran – he loves this country,” the relative said in the interview.
Police are searching a park in south-west London in the hunt for a former British soldier suspected of terrorism offences, as investigators look into whether his escape was an inside job.
Mr Khalife, 21, escaped from London's HMP Wandsworth on Wednesday morning by slipping out of the prison kitchen where he was working and strapping himself to the bottom of a grocery delivery van.
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 escaped.
While he is not said to pose a risk to the public, his escape has sparked a massive manhunt across the country, with enhanced security checks at ports and airports, which have led to delays for travellers.
Metropolitan Police officers were stationed at points around Richmond Park, which is about 10km from Wandsworth, in the early hours of Friday.
A helicopter was seen circling overhead.
The 955-hectare park, the largest in London, has been closed while the search is carried out.
Police confirmed on Friday that their presence was related to the search for Mr Khalife.
“In response to media enquiries about police activity in Richmond Park, we can now confirm this is linked to the search for Daniel Khalife,” said police.
Officers previously said he has connections with the town of Kingston upon Thames, which is close to Richmond.
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley said on Friday the prison escape was “clearly pre-planned” and is “extremely concerning”.
He told LBC: “It is clearly pre-planned, the fact that he could strap himself on to the bottom of the wagon.”
Sir Mark added a prison escape is “unlikely to be something you do on the spur of the moment”.
Asked if police are looking into whether it was an “inside job”, the commissioner said: “It is a question. Did anyone inside the prison help him? Other prisoners, guard staff? Was he helped by people outside the walls or was it simply all of his own creation?”
The Ministry of Defence confirmed that Mr Khalife was discharged from the British Army in May.
He was last seen wearing a white T-shirt, red-and-white-checked trousers and brown steel-toecap boots, police said. Mr Khalife is slim, with short brown hair.
More than 150 officers and staff have been working round the clock to try to apprehend Mr Khalife.
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly declined on Friday to comment on whether he was confident Mr Khalife will be caught.
“We have fantastic security services and police services. I don't think it would be useful or credible for me to speculate,” Mr Cleverly told ITV's Good Morning Britain programme.
“The important thing is that we let the police, the investigators do their work,”
Commenting on a lack of sightings, Commander Dominic Murphy, head of the Met's counter-terrorism division, said on Thursday that Mr Khalife's military training would give him an advantage in trying to evade capture.
“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,” he said.
“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.