Themanhunt for an escaped prisoner in the United Kingdomentered its second day Thursday as authorities raced to track down terror suspect and former British soldier Daniel Abed Khalife. The 21-year-old escaped a London prison Wednesday, reportedly by clinging to the underside of a delivery truck.
The Times of London newspaper said Khalife, who worked in the kitchen at South London’s Wandsworth prison, crawled under a delivery van wearing chef’s garb and held on as it drove out the gates. Khalife was reported missing at 7:50 a.m. local time (2:50 a.m. Eastern) Wednesday, U.K. police have said.
The former British Army soldier had been awaiting trial at the prison on terrorism related charges accusing him of planting fake bombs at an army base. Khalife was also accused of collecting sensitive personal information about soldiers from a U.K. Ministry of Defense database, CBS News partner network BBC News reported Thursday.
Evidence provided during a previous court appearance was used to argue that Khalife “elicited” personal information about soldiers from the Ministry of Defence Joint Personnel Administration System, which was “likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism.”
Khalife was accused of working for Iran, according to the BBC, but he has denied all of the charges against him.
Dominic Murphy, a counterterrorism commander with London’s Metropolitan Police, launched an urgent public appealfor anyone who spots Khalife to report him to authorities, saying that the suspect could be “at large anywhere in the U.K.”
U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said Thursday that he wanted to “reassure people that public safety is, of course, our paramount responsibility” and the focus of the authorities’ work.
Security checks were underway Thursday across British ports and airports after they were alerted to the manhunt the previous day. In asocial media post, Heathrow Airport said that, “due to additional security checks being carried out, waiting times for departing passengers may be longer than usual.”
Questions have been raised over whether Khalife should have been held in a more secure facility, considering the nature of the charges against him. Wandsworth prison is a “Category B” prison, which does hold high security prisoners but is not considered as secure as a “Category A” prison, the highest security ranking for prisons in the U.K.
In annualprison performance ratings carried out by the U.K. Ministry of Justice, the Wandsworth prison was given a “1” for 2022/23, meaning it was a prison “of serious concern.” The ratings are determined partly by the security and stability of a prison.
Addressing the British Parliament on Thursday, U.K. Justice Minister Alex Chalk said he had ordered two urgent reviews into both the categorization of Wandsworth prison specifically, and into prisons across the U.K. that handle prisoners charged with terrorism offenses.
“Daniel Khalife will be found, and he will be made to face justice,” Chalk vowed.
A prison spokesperson told the BBC that an internal investigation was underway to determine exactly why Khalife was held at the Wandsworth facility and whether security procedures were accurately followed.
“The justice secretary is working to understand from operational colleagues this evening both the categorization decision and the situation that led to the escape, what protocols were in place and if they were followed,” the prison spokesperson said.
The Times of London also reported Wednesday that there was a one-hour delay between prison officials realizing Khalife was missing and them notifying the police. On Thursday, the police said in an emailed comment to CBS News that they had no further updates on Khalife’s whereabouts.