Murderer who killed three gay men in Reading ‘terror’ attack ‘was performing religious jihad’, court hears

Khairi Saadallah wearing a black cap backwards

A man who killed three gay men in a ‘terror’ attack in Reading, England, last year believed he had to “kill as many people as possible” as he was “performing an act of religious jihad”, prosecutors said Tuesday (5 January).

In less than a minute, Khairi Saadallah, 26, tore into a Reading park in June 2020 and stabbed three men to death as well as injuring three others.

James Furlong, 36, Joseph Ritchie-Bennett, 39, and David Wails, 49, all died of their wounds in an act of frenzied brutality that sent shudders throughout the LGBT+ community.

Saadallah admitted to three counts of murder and three counts of attempted murder in November, but at a sentencing hearing at the Central Criminal Court in London, known as the Old Bailey, denied a terrorist motive.

Prosecutors sought to position Saadallah as an ideologically-charged terrorist, the court heard, citing alleged social media photographs of him posing next to statues and carrying weapons while wearing combat uniform, The Sun reported.

“The defendant believed that in carrying out this attack he was acting in pursuit of his extremist ideology,” claimed prosecutor Alison Morgan QC.

“An extremist ideology that he appears to have held for some time. He believed that in killing as many people as possible that day he was performing an act of religious jihad.”

As Morgan demanded life without parole, Saadallah, of Basingstoke Road, denied he was motivated by ideology at the two-day hearing.

Reading ‘terror’ attacker shouted ‘Allahu Akbar’ as he killed three gay men, says prosecutor

“In the early evening of 20 June 2020, James Furlong, David Wails and Joseph Ritchie-Bennett were with friends sitting in Forbury Gardens in Reading,” Morgan described.

“They were enjoying being able to be together on a summer’s evening in the park, as the restrictions of the first lockdown were relaxed.

“Shortly before 7pm, they were murdered in a brutal attack by the defendant, Khairi Saadallah.

“In less than a minute, shouting the words ‘Allahu Akbar’ (‘God is the greatest’) the defendant carried but a lethal attack with a knife, killing all three men before they had a chance to respond and try to defend themselves.

Joe Ritchie-Bennett, David Wails and James Furlong were killed in the knife rampage

Joe Ritchie-Bennett, David Wails and James Furlong were killed in the knife rampage

“Within the same minute, the defendant went on to attack others nearby, stabbing three more people – Stephen Young, Patrick Edwards and Nishit Nisudan – causing them significant injuries.

“The defendant was ruthlessly efficient in his actions. The prosecution’s case is that the attack perpetrated by this defendant was carefully planned and executed with determination and precision.”

The court also heard that Saadallah served with an outlawed Islamist militia in Libya and once served a sentence alongside Omar Brooks, an Islamist preacher associated with al-Muhajiroun, a banned group that seeks to create an Islamic state in Britain.

Between 2013 and 2020, Saadallah was repeatedly arrested and convicted of various offences by British authorities.

As Saadallah stood at the dock, grieving loved ones of the victims appeared both in court and through video uplink.

Furlong was a school teacher in the area, described by friends as a “proud gay man” who “wanted equality for all”.

Ritchie-Bennett was an American from Philadelphia who had lost his husband to cancer a little more than five years ago. Ritchie-Bennett’s father, Robert Ritchie, called the Reading attack “senseless” in an interview at the time with CBS News.

“The family is heartbroken they have lost their brilliant and loving son,” added Ritchie senior.

Wails was a scientist who always “made people smile”.