The third attacker involved in the London Bridge terror attack was reportedly investigated for possible terror links 15 months ago after telling Italian airport officials, “I’m going to be a terrorist”.
The information on Youssef Zaghba, Italian authorities said on Tuesday, was shared with the UK in April 2016, in a revelation set to add further pressure on the British intelligence service.
Counter-terrorism chiefs and MI5 are already facing harsh criticism for their monitoring of one of Zaghba’s co-offenders, Shazad Butt, who they had been warned about twice before Saturday’s terror attack that claimed seven lives.
The Metropolitan Police on Tuesday named Zaghba as the third terrorist involved in the attack and confirmed he was not a “police or MI5 subject of interest”.
It said the 22-year-old had yet to be formally identified, but detectives were confident it was him, and had informed his family.
Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera said Zaghba was born in Fez in January 1995 to a Moroccan father and Italian mother who later split up. The mother was said to reside in Bologna.
The newspaper stated that Zaghba was stopped at Marconi Airport in Bologna on 15 March 2016.
Officials suspected he was trying to travel to Syria via Turkey, as he only had a one-way ticket to Istanbul, no luggage and no money.
It further reported that Zaghba, who had told his mother he was going to Rome, became agitated as soon as he was stopped and his passport and mobile phone were seized. Further searches were said to have been undertaken at his mother’s home where a computer was examined.
Video images of religious content was discovered on his phone, but it was reportedly not significant in terms of jihadi fundamentalism, the paper reported.
However, another Italian newspaper, La Repubblica, said the material on his phone included propaganda videos and religious sermons that suggested he wanted to join the Islamic State.
The newspaper further claimed that when Zaghba was questioned about his reason for travel, he replied: “I’m going to be a terrorist.”
A court review later determined there was not enough evidence to proceed with terrorism charges against Zaghba, but Italian security officials are said to have sent an alert to London detailing the information gathered.
The newspaper claimed a full dossier of information was sent to MI5 in April 2016.
Because Zaghba had Italian citizenship he could not be deported for suspected jihadi values.
An Italian official confirmed to the Guardian on Tuesday that officials had alerted their British counterparts about Zaghba.
UK authorities are yet to comment on that claim.
Police on Monday named the other two attackers as Shazad Butt and Rachid Redouane.
Butt, 27, a British citizen who was born in Pakistan, featured in a controversial Channel 4 documentary last year called The Jihadi Next Door, and was known to the intelligence service who investigated him in 2015. He was reportedly “prioritised in the lower echelons” after officers reportedly found no evidence to suggest he was planning an attack.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson on Tuesday added his weight of concern to debates about how Butt had being able to feature in the TV report but wasn’t deemed dangerous enough to be monitored.
Johnson, the former mayor of London, told Sky News: “People are going to look at the front pages today and they’re going to say ‘how on Earth could we have let this guy or possibly more through the net?’
“What happened, how could he possibly be on a Channel 4 programme and be committing atrocities like this?’
“That is a question that will need to be answered by MI5, by the police, as the investigation goes on.”
The terror trio began their attack by mounting the pavement on London Bridge and ploughing into pedestrians. After crashing the van, the men then proceeded on foot, attacking people indiscriminately with 12-inch knives.
Forty eight people were injured.
On Tuesday the NHS said 36 people remained in hospital, with 18 in a critical condition, the BBC reported.