LONDON (AFP, AP, REUTERS) - Tributes were paid on Monday (Dec 2) to victims of the London Bridge terror attack, as the government said it was reviewing the early release from prison of dozens of convicted terrorists.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the main opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn and London Mayor Sadiq Khan all joined a vigil to honour Mr Jack Merritt, 25, and 23-year-old Ms Saskia Jones.
They were both killed on Friday when Usman Khan, who was wearing a fake suicide device, went on a knife rampage before being shot dead by armed police.
Khan, 28, had been released early from a 16-year prison sentence for an Al-Qaeda-inspired plot to attack central London after being deemed to no longer be a risk to the public.
The incident has provoked questions about legislation, and triggered accusations that the government was seeking to make political capital from the tragedy before a general election.
The memorial event in the City of London financial district, a short distance from the scene of the attack, involved members of the emergency services and the public.
Mayor Khan told them: “The best way to defeat this hatred is not by turning on one another but by focusing on the values that bind us.”
People should “take hope from the heroism of ordinary Londoners and our emergency services who ran towards danger, risking their lives to help people they didn’t even know”.
“It is also by drawing inspiration from Jack and Saskia, who from an early age chose to dedicate themselves to helping others,” he added.
A minute’s silence was also held in Cambridge, where the two victims were university graduates, and were working on a prisoner rehabilitation scheme that Khan had attended.
Among those at the Cambridge vigil was Merritt’s girlfriend Leanne O’Brien, who broke down in tears and clutched a cuddly toy.
Mr Toby Williamson, chief executive of Fishmongers’ Hall, paid tribute to staff at the venue who tried to help the injured and fight off the attacker. Mr Williamson said one employee, whom he identified as Lukasz, pulled a 5-foot (1.5m) narwhal tusk from the wall and charged at Khan, allowing others to escape.
Mr Williamson told BBC that Lukasz suffered cuts in a minute of “one-on-one straight combat” with the knifeman.
The attack has pushed security to the top of the agenda in campaigning for Britain's Dec 12 election.
Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson has blamed legal changes made by a previous Labour government for the fact that Khan was freed from prison a year ago after serving half of a 16-year sentence for terrorist offences, without parole officers assessing whether he still posed a risk.
That rule was changed in 2012 by a Conservative-led government, and Mr Johnson has vowed to end the early release of violent offenders altogether.
Opposition parties blamed years of cuts to the prison and probation services by the Conservatives, who have been in power since 2010. Khan was on probation, subject to restrictions on his movement and wearing an electronic tag when he launched his attack.
“There are enormous questions to be learnt from this terrible event that happened last week and that is, what happened in the prison with this particular individual, what assessment was made of his psychological condition before he was released and also what supervision and monitoring he was under after coming out?“ said opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn.
The family of Mr Merritt also cautioned against knee-jerk responses. They said he “would not want this terrible, isolated incident to be used as a pretext by the government for introducing even more draconian sentences on prisoners, or for detaining people in prison for longer than necessary".
"Don't use my son's death, and his and his colleague's photos - to promote your vile propaganda," the father of Mr Jack Merritt, Mr David Merritt, said in a tweet.
"Jack stood against everything you stand for - hatred, division, ignorance," said Mr David Merritt.
In the wake of the attack, authorities are urgently reviewing the release of more than 70 other former terrorist prisoners.
As part of that work, a 34-year-old man was arrested last Saturday in Stoke-on-Trent, central England, on suspicion of preparation of terrorist acts. Police said on Monday he had been returned to prison for breaching his release conditions.
The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria terror group said the London Bridge attack was carried out by one of its fighters, the group's Amaq news agency reported on Saturday. The group did not provide any evidence.