A failed Libyan asylum seeker, who shouted “Allahu Akbar” as he stabbed three men to death in a Reading park last summer, was not an Islamic extremist because he drank, took drugs and had tattoos, his lawyers have said.
Khairi Saadallah, 26, has admitted murdering James Furlong, 36, Joseph Ritchie-Bennett, 39, and David Wails, 49, in a knife rampage on June 20 last year.
But the former child soldier, who was a member of a banned Libyan terrorist group, Anar Al-Sharia, and also befriended notorious hate preacher, Omar Brooks, while in prison, has denied the attack was motivated by religious ideology.
His lawyer, Rossano Scamardella, QC, told his sentencing hearing at the Old Bailey, that Saadallah did not live the life of an Islamic extremist and indulged in cigarettes, drugs and alcohol.
“A person willing to kill for that cause would not behave in this way. He also appears to identify as Christian as well as a Muslim,” said Mr Scarmadalla.
The court was told that Saadallah had a crucifix tattooed on his legs and there were pictures of him worshipping in a church.
His barrister said: “No radical Muslim would contenance the dogma of another faith. It is inconceivable.”
Khairi Saadallah fought with a terrorist group in Libya
Prosecutors are seeking a whole life prison term for Saadallah on the basis that the attack was premeditated and was an act of terror.
Referring to his 2017 prison friendship with Brooks, a former member of the banned terror group Al-Muhajiroun, Mr Scarmadella said that did not necessarily have a bearing on the attack in Reading three years later.
He said: “During the time that Mr Saadallah attended prayers with him he was someone described by the prison as being vulnerable.
“It may be different if there was evidence that the contact had continued afterwards or started before, but limited association with someone described by the prison as a charismatic prisoner is no evidence of his views.”
The families of those who died watched proceedings and gave heart-rending victim impact statements about the loss of their loved ones.
Mr Furlong, the head of history, government and politics at The Holt School in Wokingham, was described as a deeply caring person who helped all those he knew.
James Furlong died in the attack
In a statement his family said: “James was a remarkable person, an unfailingly kind and compassionate man. He was a gentle, deeply caring soul and a great support to those he knew.”
Mr Ritchie-Bennett’s mother Charlene, speaking from her home in Philadelphia, said: "Everyone loved Joe and he always included everyone in his life. He cared deeply for family, friends and co-workers. He always saw the good in people and accepted them as we accepted him.”
Joe Ritchie-Bennett was one of those who died
Joan Wails, the mother of Mr Wails, said in her statement: "There was no sense in David’s death, it was cruel, inhumane and cowardly. The pain I feel in my heart is unbearable.
"What this person did to David and his two friends is monstrous. That’s what my family and I refer to him as, a monster.”
Saadallah is due to be sentenced by Mr Justice Sweeney on Monday.