A vigil honoring victims of a London Bridge terror attack that killed two people drew thousands of mourners Monday amid controversy over a criminal justice system drawing blame for the carnage.
The vigil in the British capital took place the same day President Donald Trump and other world leaders flew to the city for a NATO summit that opens Tuesday. Authorities, however, have revealed no link between Friday’s knife attack and the summit being hosted by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
The 28-year-old attacker also wounded three people before being fatally shot by police. He was an extremist convicted in 2012 for his part in a failed, al Qaeda-inspired plot to bomb the U.S. Embassy in London along with the London Stock Exchange and Britain’s Parliament. He was released a year ago.
Killed Friday were Jack Merritt, 25, and Saskia Jones, 23, graduates of the University of Cambridge who were taking part in a criminal justice system educational program. The attack brought back grim memories from 2017, when three militants crashed a van into pedestrians along London Bridge, then attacked bystanders. Eight people were killed and dozens injured.
“The best way to defeat this hatred is not by turning on one another, but it’s by focusing on the values that bind us,” London Mayor Sadiq Khan told the crowd. “To 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.”
While police have drawn universal support for their efforts, the attack has fueled controversy in Britain over the nation’s criminal justice system.
Prime Minister Johnson attended the vigil, standing next to opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn. Earlier, Johnson railed against sentencing guidelines, passed under Labor leadership, that allow for release of some inmates convicted on terror-related charges.
“We will end the automatic early release system for serious and violent offenders so they serve their full term in prison,” the Conservative leader said.
Corbyn blamed years of cuts to prison and parole budgets. And Phillip Lee, Justice spokesperson for Liberal Democrats, accused Johnson of oversimplifying the issue.
Lee said he and others have lobbied for changes that would “put away serious criminals for longer” while shortening sentences for lesser crimes.
“The justice system is really strained, really stretched,” Lee said. “When you stretch a system, mistakes are made. And obviously with the individual at London Bridge, mistakes were make … and you end up with a situation where two young lives have been taken.”
London attack: Police kill man who stabbed 2 people to death