London Bridge attacker, Usman Khan’s longtime lawyer Vajahat Sharif told CNN he was “completely shocked” that his former client carried out Friday’s attack as he had seen signs from him over the years that he wanted to veer away from radicalism.
Sharif says he began representing Khan when he was charged in 2010 in connection with a plot to attack the London Stock Exchange. Khan was in his late teens at the time. “I didn’t feel he understood with necessary depth the ideology he was following, and I didn’t want it to become his life,” Sharif said.
A letter obtained by CNN shows Khan writing from prison in 2012 asking to join a deradicalization course. Sharif confirms his team received the 2012 letter and had advised his client to write it with the hopes that he could meet with a specialist intervention consultancy based in the United Kingdom that focuses on rehabilitating individuals convicted of terrorist offenses.
In the letter Khan writes, “As you are fully aware of my offence, which is a terrorism offence. It relates more to what I intended and the mindset at that time, also the views I carried. Which I realize now after spending some time to think were not according to Islam and its teachings.”
But Sharif said limits on access to prisoners such as Khan prevented his client from being able to meet with a consultant from the rehab program.
Sharif says he last met with Khan shortly before he was released from prison on “license” (a form or parole) in December 2018.
Sharif says that in their last interactions he saw no cause for concern.
“He wasn’t talking about politics. He wasn’t talking about jihad. He was talking in a positive way.”
Sharif said when the two met in prison shortly before Khan’s release, Khan wanted to know what life was going to be like on the outside and the notification conditions he would be subject to under his license arrangement.
“I told him to expect things like an electronic tag and in due course the probation office would go into it and he seemed fine with it.
“What is so astonishing is that he recognized that the police were going to be in his life and he was fine about that. It was just them doing their job. He was very different from [what he was like as a] 19 year-old. He had matured a lot.”
Sharif said that though he formally stopped representing Khan after his client was released late last year, Khan spoke to him again over the phone around February or March 2019 because Khan wanted advice relating to his license conditions.
“He just wanted to check certain aspects. He was generally compliant. It wasn’t that he was unhappy with something,” Sharif said.