Police unravel multiple aliases of Westminster terrorist Khalid Masood
Detectives are piecing together the history of the Westminster terrorist Khalid Masood, a 52-year-old ex-convict who used a string of aliases and reportedly converted to Islam only in later life.world Updated: Mar 24, 2017 14:09 IST
Detectives are piecing together the history of the Westminster terrorist Khalid Masood, a 52-year-old ex-convict who used a string of aliases and reportedly converted to Islam only in later life.
Masood was described by police as a criminal with a 20-year record of offending, who had once been investigated for extremism but was assessed as low risk. Reports have emerged that his birthname was Adrian Elms.
As police search for any evidence of a wider conspiracy, eight people remain in custody after properties across the UK were raided, while a picture emerged of the killer’s apparently nomadic lifestyle.
The death toll from his assault on the capital rose to four on Thursday night when a 75-year-old man, who has not been named, had his life support withdrawn at King’s College Hospital.
Five others remain in a critical condition after Masood drove his car into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge before running into the parliamentary estate armed with two knives and fatally stabbing PC Keith Palmer before himself being shot dead.
On Thursday night, thousands of people gathered to commemorate the victims of the attack in Westminster, and to hear speeches by the capital’s mayor and other leaders aimed at preventing terrorism from spreading division and hatred.
The vigil in Trafalgar Square, central London, was held to honour the dead and injured, Sadiq Khan said, but also “to send a clear, clear, message – Londoners will never be cowed by terrorism”.
Earlier, prime minister Theresa May told MPs Masood had been previously known to MI5: “Some years ago, he was once investigated in relation to concerns about violent extremism. He was a peripheral figure. The case is historic – he was not part of the current intelligence picture.”
Amber Rudd, the home secretary, later added that Masood had spent time in jail, but not for terrorist offences, while the Metropolitan police said “Masood” was in all likelihood not his birth name.
The names of two people who died after Masood mowed them down on Westminster Bridge also emerged.
They were Kurt Cochran, 54, a US tourist from Utah celebrating his 25th wedding anniversary, and British-born Aysha Frade, 43, who worked at sixth-form college and had been walking over the bridge to pick up her daughters from school.
In the frenzied attack on Wednesday, Masood also stabbed to death PC Keith Palmer, a 48-year-old husband and father.
The prime minister said Palmer was “every inch a hero and his actions will never be forgotten”, while a crowdfunding appeal for his family has raised more than £364,000.
The attack was stopped when armed officers assigned to protect the defence secretary, Michael Fallon, shot Masood, who is believed to have been intent on entering parliament. Palmer died at New Palace Yard on the edge of the parliamentary estate, near Parliament Square, raising questions about security for legislators.
The original incident, in which Masood drove a Hyundai Tucson 4x4 into crowds at one of London’s busiest tourist spots, left 40 people injured, 29 of whom were taken to hospital.
In an emergency statement to the Commons, May said people from around the world had been caught up in the attack. “In addition to 12 Britons admitted to hospital, we know the victims include three French children, two Romanians, four South Koreans, one German, one Pole, one Irish, one Chinese, one Italian, one American and two Greeks,” she said.
She also sounded a note of defiance, telling MPs: “Today we meet as normal, as generations have done before us and as future generations will continue to do, to deliver a simple message: we are not afraid and our resolve will never waver in the face of terrorism.”
May’s spokesman said she had received phone calls from world leaders including Angela Merkel, François Hollande and Donald Trump, offering their condolences and support, and had herself signed a book of condolence in parliament. She later visited the injured in hospital.
Police said Masood had been inspired by Islamic State. But he hid his extremism from his neighbours, coming across as a keen gardener and family man.
The domestic intelligence service will face questions over why Masood dropped off the radar after being investigated in relation to concerns over violent extremism.
An MI5 team has been set up to see what lessons can be learned from the case and to look at the decision to not put him under surveillance. The police and security services monitor an estimated 3,000 Britons, mainly Islamists, regarded as capable of terrorism, but it emerged he was not on this list.
Isis claimed responsibility for the attack, although the claim could not be verified. Amaq, the news agency it uses to broadcast propaganda, issued a statement describing the attacker as a soldier of Islamic State, without naming him.
Police revealed that Masood, born in Kent on Christmas Day 1964, had a string of criminal convictions. In a statement, the Met said: “He was known to police and has a range of previous convictions for assaults, including GBH, possession of offensive weapons and public order offences.
“His first conviction was in November 1983 for criminal damage and his last conviction was in December 2003 for possession of a knife.”
The investigation is being led by SO15, Scotland Yard’s counter-terrorism command. Police staged raids across Birmingham, including Masood’s recent home in Winson Green, and at properties in London, Carmarthenshire and Brighton.
Neighbour Iwona Romek said Masood was a keen gardener, who lived in the modern mews house with his wife and young child. Romek, 45, said her experience of him was of a “nice man”.
She said the family had moved out suddenly in December 2016 and added: “I used to see him outside doing his garden. Never any trouble.”
It is believed that Masood rented the Hyundai car that he turned into a weapon of terror from the depot of a car hire firm, Enterprise, in Spring Hill, Birmingham.
Police still believe the attack was carried out by Masood alone, but are looking into whether others helped him. The eight arrests were all on suspicion of acts of preparation of a terrorist act, a key indication that police are investigating the possibility of a wider conspiracy.
A 39-year-old woman was arrested in east London, while two women aged 26 and 21 were detained in Birmingham. Five men aged 23, 26, 27, 28 and 58 were arrested in Birmingham.
PC Palmer’s family released a statement paying tribute to the police officer, who had a five-year-old daughter. They said: “Dedicated to his job and proud to be a police officer, brave and courageous. A friend to everyone who knew him. He will be deeply missed. We love him so much.”
As a mark of respect, Palmer’s shoulder number – 4157U – is to be retired and not reissued to any other officer, Scotland Yard said.
The Met has put extra officers on the streets and has extended the shifts they work from eight to 12 hours, until further notice. Forces outside London are also increasing their presence on the streets, to provide reassurance and to deter not only any further Islamist attacks but hate crimes against Muslims.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission began an investigation into the shooting of the suspect, which is mandated by law.
First Published: Mar 24, 2017 14:07 IST