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LONDON: A Libyan asylum seeker who stabbed three men to death in a rampage through a British park last year was jailed for life on Monday.

Judge Nigel Sweeney said Khairi Saadallah's attack in Forbury Gardens, Reading, last June was so "swift, ruthless and brutal" that none of his victims stood a chance.

He rejected the 26-year-old's argument that he was not motivated by terror and that he had been suffering a mental illness at the time of the killings.

Saadallah, who shouted "Allahu akhbar" (God is greater) as he fatally stabbed the three friends with an eight-inch (20-centimetre) knife and injured three more had pleaded guilty at a previous hearing in November. Judge Sweeney then heard arguments about whether he was motivated by religion, politics or ideology, and whether the attack was pre-meditated or influenced by his mental state at the time.

Sentencing him at the Old Bailey court in central London, he said Saadallah's case had been "rare and exceptional".

He had used combat experience gained while fighting in Libya's civil war to target a "vulnerable area" and "inevitably cause death".

During the attack and afterwards, Saadallah had been "seeking to advance a political, religious or ideological cause", he added.

James Furlong, 36, Dr David Wails, 49, and Joseph Ritchie-Bennett, 39, were each killed with a single thrust of the knife in the attack, which lasted less than a minute, the court was told.

Three others - Stephen Young, 51, Patrick Edwards, 29, and Nishit Nisudan, 34 - were also injured before Saadallah fled the scene was pursued by an off-duty police officer.

Witnesses described seeing a lone assailant walking through the park shortly after 7:00 pm (1800 GMT) on June 20 last year and stabbing them at random.

The attacker looked as if he had put his hands "in a big bucket of red paint", one said.

Police immediately treated the stabbing as a terror incident. It followed two high-profile knife attacks near London Bridge, in central London, in November 2019, and in Streatham, in the south of the capital, in February 2020. Two people were killed in the first, and three injured in the second. Both the perpetrators - convicted terrorists released early from prison - were shot dead by armed police.

Saadallah's arrest also raised security questions after it emerged he was known to the intelligence services, having fought for the Islamist armed group Ansar Al Sharia in Libya. But he was ultimately not deemed to be a substantial risk by the domestic intelligence agency MI5.

Saadallah, who had been jailed prior to the attack for non-terror offences, had contact with his probation officer and was visited by police on June 19 over concern for his mental state. However, a psychiatrist had since concluded that the events of June 20 were "unrelated to the effects of either mental disorder or substance misuse".