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Work of 2 London Victims Ignites a New Debate

Newser — John Johnson

The two people stabbed to death near London Bridge last week have been identified, and their life stories are adding an unexpected wrinkle to the post-attack debate.

Both were Cambridge graduates in their 20s who were attending a forum designed to rehabilitate prisoners. Their attacker was at the same forum—as a former prisoner who'd been released only last year on terrorism offenses.

Coverage:

  • Victims: Jack Merritt, 25, and Saskia Jones, 23, were killed. Merritt was coordinator of a program called Learning Together, an education initiative in which Cambridge grad students worked with prisoners, per the Washington Post.

Jones was a volunteer. The group was celebrating its fifth anniversary in Fishmongers' Hall, near the bridge, when the attack began.

  • Attacker: He has been identified as Usman Khan, 28, reports the BBC.

He'd been released from prison last year after being convicted in 2012 of plotting a terrorist bombing in London, per the New York Times. Khan was attending the Learning Together program when he began his rampage with two knives and a fake suicide vest.

Eventually, he'd be wrestled to the ground by bystanders on the bridge and fatally shot by police.

  • Cruel irony: "The injustice of somebody murdered while organizing for criminal justice feels impossibly sharp," writes Emma Goldberg in a Times op-ed.

She knew Merritt as a Cambridge classmate. "Jack was in a room of people, some on day release from prison, discussing possibilities for penal reform," she writes.

"But the world is full of injustice, and young people denied opportunity. Jack understood that better than most." Goldberg asks that as people mourn Merritt's death, they don't forget "what he stood for in life."

  • PM's tough words: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and other officials have responded to the attack by promising a crackdown on prisoners freed after terror offenses, and Johnson also blamed a "lefty government" for Khan's release, reports Business Insider.

Johnson said about 75 convicted terrorists had been freed, and those cases would be "properly invigilated to make sure there is no threat," per the Guardian.

Merritt's family in particular is pushing back.

  • Father's response: "Don't use my son's death, and his and his colleague's photos - to promote your vile propaganda," David Merritt tweeted, along with an image of newspaper front pages promising a crackdown by Johnson.

"Jack stood against everything you stand for - hatred, division, ignorance." A separate family statement said Merritt "always took the side of the underdog" and hoped that his death would not lead to "more draconian sentences."

  • Justice secretary: Johnson's justice secretary, Robert Buckland, denied the allegation that the government was exploiting the deaths, reports the Guardian.

"I do think we need to pause and get the tone of this debate right," he said. "But, public protection has to be at the heart of the duty of any government, and I have to put that first and foremost, when considering first of all existing offenders, and secondly the future sentencing regime for terrorists."

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This article originally appeared on Newser: Work of 2 London Victims Ignites a New Debate