London attacker previously under probe for link to car-bomb plot

Floral tributes to the victims of the March 22 terror attack are seen on outside the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, central London, on March 27, 2017.
Floral tributes to the victims of the March 22 terror attack are seen on outside the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, central London, on March 27, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

LONDON • The man behind last Wednesday's attack at London's Westminster Bridge and Houses of Parliament was on MI5's radar for a plot to bomb an army base.

The Telegraph yesterday reported that Khalid Masood, 52, was under investigation in 2010 by the British spy agency, for his link to a terror conspiracy that was eventually foiled.

Four of the plotters - Zahid Iqbal, Mohammed Sharfaraz Ahmed, Syed Hussain and Umar Arshad - were sentenced to a total of 44 years in 2013 for planning to launch a remote-controlled car bomb into an army base in Luton, north of London.

Masood, a Muslim convert, killed four people and injured 50 when he ploughed his rental car into pedestrians, then attacked a police officer guarding the Parliament grounds with a knife last Wednesday afternoon. He was then shot dead by policemen.

The authorities believe he acted alone, although they have since rounded up 12 people in a series of raids, including a 30-year-old man on Sunday evening. The man and another 58-year-old man from Birmingham, where Masood last lived, are still in custody.

Khalid Masood, 52, was under investigation in 2010 by the British spy agency, for his link to a terror conspiracy that was eventually foiled. Four of the plotters - Zahid Iqbal, Mohammed Sharfaraz Ahmed, Syed Hussain and Umar Arshad - were sentenced to a total of 44 years in 2013 for planning to launch a remote-controlled car bomb into an army base in Luton, north of London.

Luton has been described as a hotbed of extremism. A banned extremist group, Al-Muhajiroun, led by jailed hate preacher Anjem Choudary, had actively recruited locally, while Swede Taimour Abdulwahab, who blew himself up in Stockholm in 2010, was radicalised while attending university there.

The Telegraph reported that Masood was a close neighbour of Taimour when Masood moved to Luton in 2009 after returning from Saudi Arabia where he was teaching English. He apparently also became associated with the car-bomb plotters at a local gym when the group was preparing for its attack.

Masood came under MI5's radar when the security agency began surveilling the plotters after learning about their planned assault. The group had discussed striking the MI5 headquarters, a local shopping centre and a US Air Force base.

British Prime Minister Theresa May told lawmakers last week that Masood was previously investigated for "concerns about violent extremism", but was deemed to be low risk.

Police said last Saturday that they have so far been unable to establish a motive for Masood's murderous rampage, and are continuing to investigate if he had been influenced by online Islamic State in Iraq and Syria propaganda, or had other grievances.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd has summoned heads of technology companies to a meeting on Thursday to discuss giving the government access to encrypted messages, after it emerged that Masood had used the WhatsApp messaging service minutes before he launched his attack.

 

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 28, 2017, with the headline 'London attacker previously under probe for link to car-bomb plot'. Print Edition | Subscribe