UK vows to track down Iran-linked terror suspect

UK vows to track down Iran-linked terror suspect
The UK police have launched a major manhunt for escapee Daniel Abed Khalife, with motorway junctions being closed on Thursday in a bid to tighten security checks.
3 min read
07 September, 2023
Daniel Abed Khalife escaped Wandsworth prison in south London on Wednesday morning and is yet to be found [Getty]

The UK justice minister on Thursday promised that a former soldier awaiting trial on Iran-linked terrorism charges would be hunted down, after he escaped from jail a day earlier.

Daniel Abed Khalife fled from Wandsworth prison in south London on Wednesday morning, probably by clinging to the bottom of a delivery van.

His disappearance triggered a major manhunt, with extra security checks introduced at ports and airports amid fears the 21-year-old may try to flee the country.

"Daniel Khalife will be found and he will be made to face justice," UK Justice Secretary Alex Chalk told the lower house of parliament.

Chalk said "local contingency plans for an unaccounted prisoner" had been activated shortly after the departure of a vehicle making a delivery to the prison's kitchen at around 7:30 am (0630 GMT) Wednesday.

"The prison was put into a state of lockdown while staff attempted to determine Daniel Khalife's whereabouts.

"Strapping was found underneath the vehicle which appeared to indicate that Daniel Khalife may have held onto the underside of it in order to escape," Chalk added.

Khalife was reported to have been working in the prison kitchen and wearing a white T-shirt and red-and-white chequered trousers when he absconded.

Kent Police said junctions on a motorway heading towards England's south coast had been temporarily shut on Thursday due to enhanced security checks.

Chalk announced an independent investigation into the escape and also ordered urgent reviews into the categorisation and placement of everyone held at Wandsworth prison and all those in custody with terror offences.

Inside job?

Wandsworth, which opened in 1851, is a Category B prison - the second highest security. Terror suspects and prisoners are routinely held in maximum security Category A facilities.

Rosena Allin-Khan, a lawmaker for the main opposition Labour party, told parliament that conditions for staff at Wandsworth prison were "unworkable and unsafe."

Chief Inspector of Prisons Charlie Taylor also said staff shortages were "the source of many problems."

"Something obviously went wrong in terms of security, and that will come out over time," he added.

John Podmore, a former governor at two prisons in London, told the BBC that the escape could have been an inside job, and that he should he have been held at nearby Category A Belmarsh prison instead.

"It's much more suited to the levels of security that someone like this, charged but not convicted, needs. I can't understand why he wasn't at Belmarsh," he added.

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Khalife appeared in court in London on January 28 and was remanded in custody over two incidents at the Royal Air Force (RAF) base in Stafford, central England, near the army barracks where he lived.

He is accused of "attempting to elicit information of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism" in August 2021.

He was also charged with a bomb hoax by placing a suspect device at the RAF base on January 2 this year.

According to the BBC Khalife has also been accused of intelligence gathering for Iran, being charged under the Terrorism Act and the Official Secrets Act. 

His trial at Woolwich Crown Court - attached to Belmarsh prison - had been set to begin on November 13.