LONDON (AP) — British police hunted across the country on Thursday and put ports and airports on alert for a former soldier who escaped from a London prison while awaiting trial on terrorism charges.
Opposition politicians demanded to know how Daniel Abed Khalife managed to slip out of medium-security Wandsworth Prison and why he 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 was set for November.
Police said Khalife was dressed in a kitchen uniform of a white T-shirt and red checkered trousers when he escaped from the overcrowded Victorian prison in south London.
Opposition politicians linked the escape to years of austerity under the Conservative Party, which has governed Britain since 2010.
Many U.K. prisons, including Wandsworth, are over capacity and short of staff.
Cabinet Minister Michelle Donelan tried to reassure Britons that prison breakouts were “extremely rare.”
“This is not an epidemic or anything of that nature. This is an isolated incident,” she told broadcaster ITV.
But 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.”