Police comb the UK and put ports on alert for an escaped prison inmate awaiting terrorism trial

LONDON (AP) — A former British soldier awaiting trial on terror charges who appears to have escaped from a London prison by strapping himself to the underside of a food delivery truck remained at large Thursday as police stepped up security checks across the United Kingdom amid concerns he may try to flee the country.

Opposition parties linked the escape to years of austerity while Britain’s Conservative government said an independent investigation will take place “in due course” into how Daniel Abed Khalife managed to slip out of the medium-security Wandsworth Prison.

His escape has prompted extra security checks at major transport hubs, particularly at the Port of Dover, the main boat crossing from England to France.

Britain’s justice secretary told lawmakers that “no stone must be left unturned in getting to the bottom of what happened” as he confirmed an “independent investigation into this incident.” Alex Chalk also said “urgent” reviews into prison categorization would be carried out as questions remained over how Khalife was not being held at a maximum-security facility.

Khalife, 21, is accused of planting fake bombs at a military base and of violating Britain’s Official Secrets Act by gathering information “that could be useful to an enemy.” He was discharged from the British army after his arrest earlier this year and had denied the allegations. His trial is set for November.

Chalk said Khalife, who had been working in a kitchen at the prison, escaped around 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday morning, when a vehicle that had made a delivery left.

Shortly afterward, he said, contingency plans for an unaccounted prisoner were activated and police were informed. The vehicle, he added, was subsequently stopped and searched by police after the alert was raised.

“Strapping was found underneath the vehicle which appeared to indicate that Daniel Khalife may have held onto the underside of it in order to escape,” Chalk said.

Opposition politicians have sought to pin the blame on the Conservative government, which has been in power since 2010. Many U.K. prisons, including Wandsworth, are over capacity and short of staff.

“It simply beggars belief that a man being held on suspected terror charges was able to escape a prison by clinging to the bottom of a food delivery van,” said Shabana Mahmood, the justice spokesperson for the main opposition Labour Party. “How is such an escape even possible?”

Criminal justice expert Ian Acheson, a former head of security at Wandsworth Prison, said Khalife’s escape was “at best” a “catastrophic system failure.”

“It’s incredibly embarrassing for the prison service, but it’s not entirely surprising, given what we know about what’s going on Wandsworth at the moment,” he told the BBC, adding that “Wandsworth, like so many of our flagship prisons, is in free fall.”

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Associated Press writer Jill Lawless in London contributed to this report.

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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