Radicalisation, psychiatric illness or PTS?

Reading attacks: Khairi Saadallah volunteered at Baptist church before his conversion

Emma Yeomans, Matthew Bradley, John Simpson, Charlotte Wace, Fiona Hamilton
Wednesday June 24 2020,
The Times
The suspect in the Reading park attack volunteered at a Baptist church before converting to Christianity.

Khairi Saadallah, 25, spent three months helping out at the Wycliffe Baptist church in the town but did not worship there, its operations manager said. Mr Saadallah later announced his conversion to his family in a video from a church. His sister said he was motivated by a wish to “marry a British girl”.

Mr Saadallah, who was referred to the government’s Prevent counter-extremism programme, is understood to have suffered from mental health problems. However, Stewart Johnston, operations manager for the church, said he had not picked up any indications of this.

Mr Saadallah volunteered from June to September 2018 while living in a hostel. “It was unclear that he had any sort of faith,” Mr Johnston said. “He would be stacking chairs, putting chairs out, helping in the kitchen, that sort of thing.”

He volunteered under supervision and never attended Sunday services, Mr Johnston added. “I can’t remember what our first point of contact was,” he said. “Often we will meet people who say they have a lot of time and space and want to help out.”

He added: “He presented totally normally . . . If he had mental health problems, they weren’t clear to us in any shape or form.

“It’s an unbelievably sad situation. You’ve got three families who have had people ripped from them in the most unimaginable way, beyond anything you could predict at all.”

In September 2018, he said, Mr Saadallah stopped coming. “Life can be a little all over the place and sometimes people just don’t come,” he said. “Obviously you make attempts to say ‘how are you’, ‘what are you doing’, ‘what’s happening’, but if people don’t get back to you . . . that’s what happened with him.

“We knew his family were in Libya and that immediately opens up a story there, but it wasn’t a story we were going to ask for.”

Mr Saadallah, who is believed to have attended a British Army recruitment event as a teenager, was 15 when he became a member of a group in Libya that helped to overthrow Colonel Gaddafi in 2011. It is not known whether he held a civilian role or took up arms. However, it was also reported yesterday that his wealthy family had ties to the dictator’s family and went to parties at the home of his son, Saif Gaddafi.

Mr Saadallah’s sister, Eiman, said his decision to convert had caused a rift with his family. “They didn’t approve of him converting to Christianity to marry a British girl,” she told the Daily Mail.

He had been assessed by MI5 and was not considered an immediate threat. Other agencies were involved in his case but it was assessed that he was not ideologically driven.

Friends have said that he drank and smoked cannabis, and showed no Islamist leanings. One said she did not believe he had chosen Christianity for a woman. “I never heard that,” she said. “He converted because he wanted to change his life and get away from the life he was forced to live in his home country.”


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