Masood had long string of convictions; was on fringes of a previous investigation
BIRMINGHAM — March 24, 2017: Before he killed at least four people in Britain’s deadliest attack since the
2005 London bombings, Khalid Masood was considered by intelligence officers to be a criminal who posed little serious threat.
A British-born convert to Islam, Masood had shown up on the periphery of previous terrorism investigations that brought him to the attention of Britain’s MI5 spy agency.
But the 52-year-old was not under investigation when he sped across Westminster Bridge on Wednesday, mowing down pedestrians with a hired car before running into the parliamentary grounds and fatally stabbing an unarmed policeman. He was shot dead by police.
“Our investigation focuses on understanding his motivation, his operation and his associates,” Britain’s senior
counter-terrorism police officer, Mark Rowley, told reporters.
A European government source familiar with the investigation said Masood’s name had cropped up about five years ago on the margins of an MI5 counter-terrorism investigation but interest in him had swiftly dissipated.
At the time of the attack, British authorities had “no intelligence about how he got to this point,” the source said,
adding that investigators were now rushing to piece together his background and contacts.
Although his associates included people suspected of being keen to travel to join jihadi groups overseas, Masood never did, said a U.S. government source, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity.
Islamic State claimed responsibility for Masood’s attack, although it was unclear what links – if any – he had with the
militant group. Police said there had been no prior intelligence about his intent to mount an attack.
“An act of terrorism tried to silence our democracy,” Prime Minister Theresa May told parliament. “He took out his rage indiscriminately.”
Born Adrian Russell Ajao in Kent, southeast of London, on Christmas Day in 1964, he moved though several addresses in England and lived recently here in Birmingham, central England.
The Daily Mail newspaper said he was brought up by his single mother in the town of Rye on England’s south coast, later converting to Islam and changing his name. Other media reports said he was a married father-of-three and a former English teacher who was into bodybuilding.
Police have released few details about Masood and what might have led him to carry out the attack, the deadliest in
Britain since four young British Islamists killed 52 people in the 2005 London suicide bombings.
Known by a number of aliases, he racked up a string of convictions, but none for terrorism-related offences. His
occupation was unclear.
He first came to the attention of the authorities in November 1983 when he was found guilty of causing criminal
damage. His last conviction came 14 years ago in December 2003 for possession of a knife.
“Our working assumption is that he was inspired by international terrorism,” said Rowley.
But Masood’s age does not fit the profile of militant attackers, who are typically younger than 30, according to
Shashank Joshi, Senior Research Fellow at London’s Royal United Services Institute, said an MI5 report based on studies of several hundred British extremists found that half were born in Britain. Few were raised in very religious households and many, like Masood, were converts.
“Masood is not atypical in being a British-born convert with a criminal record. He was slightly more unusual in being older, but we do not know how long ago he was radicalised,” Joshi told Reuters.
“If it was in prison, this would be a common pathway. Given the diversity of Islamist extremists, Masood doesn’t look too unusual.”
Detectives are questioning 11 people in custody, having made what they said were two more arrests in central and
Iwona Romek, a former neighbour from here, told reporters: “When I saw the pictures on TV and in the papers of
the man who carried out the attack, I recognised him as the man who used to live next door.
“He had a young child, who I’d think was about 5 or 6 years old. There was a woman living there with him, an Asian woman. He seemed to be quite nice, he would be taking care of his garden and the weeds.”
In December, she said, he suddenly moved out.
Birmingham has been one of the hotbeds for British Islamists. According to a study by the Henry Jackson think-tank
earlier this month, 39 of 269 people convicted in Britain of terrorism offences from 1998 to 2015 came from the
There are over 213,000 Muslims in Birmingham, more than a fifth of the population, according to the 2011 census, and there has been growing concern about divisions in the diverse city.
Masood hired the car he used in the attack here from rental firm Enterprise, and he may have rented an apartment not far from the Enterprise offices, which were among properties raided by police.
On the eve of the attack, Masood spent his last night in a budget hotel in Brighton on the south coast, according to a
fellow guest who recognised him.
“Nothing in his demeanour or his looks would have given me any thoughts that would make me think he was anything but normal,” said Michael Petersen.