UK police have confirmed sighting of escaped terrorism suspect

LONDON (Reuters) -British police said they had a confirmed sighting of a former soldier accused of terrorism offences who went on the run on Wednesday, after a member of the public said they saw him emerging from under a truck about one mile from the prison.

Daniel Abed Khalife, 21, absconded from London’s HMP Wandsworth on Wednesday morning after slipping out of the prison kitchen where he was working and strapping himself to the bottom of a food delivery truck.

London Metropolitan Police Counter Terrorism Commander Dominic Murphy said Khalife was seen near Wandsworth roundabout, shortly after he had escaped wearing a chef’s uniform.

“Daniel was spotted then walking towards Wandsworth town centre along Swandon Way,” he told broadcasters.

While he is not said to pose a risk to the public, Khalife’s escape has touched off a massive manhunt across the country, with enhanced security checks at ports and airports which have led to delays for travellers.

Some 150 counter-terrorism officers are involved in a huge operation to find him, which Murphy said was focused on London at present.

Police are offering a 20,000 pound ($25,000) reward for information that leads to his arrest, Murphy said.

Khalife’s military experience could make him more aware of efforts to catch him, police have said.

London police chief Mark Rowley told LBC radio they were investigating whether Khalife, who was wearing a white T-shirt, red and white chequered trousers and brown steel toe cap boots, had help from guards or other prisoners in his escape, saying it was “clearly pre-planned”.

“So it’s a question,” Rowley said. “Did anyone inside the prison help him, other prisoners, corrupt guard staff? Was he helped by people outside the walls? Or was it simply all of his own creation?”

Khalife, who was discharged from the British army in May, is accused of eliciting or trying to elicit information likely to be useful to a person preparing an act of terrorism while he was based at barracks in central England in 2021, and also staging a bomb hoax by placing three canisters with wires on a desk.

He is also charged with obtaining information which might be “directly or indirectly useful to an enemy”. The BBC has reported he was accused of gathering details for Iran.

Opposition lawmakers have demanded answers about how Khalife had been able to get out of jail and why he was not being held at a maximum-security prison.

Justice minister Alex Chalk told parliament on Thursday there would be an investigation into the prison’s security protocols and into the decision about where Khalife was held, with preliminary findings due by the end of the week.

(Reporting by Michael Holden, William James and Paul Sandle; editing by Sarah Young, Elizabeth Piper, Mark Heinrich and Nick Macfie)