British police have expanded their investigation into this week’s terrorist attack in London to five communities across the country, as more details of the attacker’s troubled life emerged.
On Saturday the Saudi Arabian embassy in Britain said he taught English in Saudi Arabia from November 2005 to November 2006 and again from April 2008 to April 2009, with a legitimate work visa both times. He then returned for six days in March 2015 on a trip booked through an approved travel agent and made on an “Umra” visa, usually granted to those on a religious pilgrimage to the country’s Islamic holy sites.
The embassy said Saudi security services didn’t track Masood and he didn’t have a criminal record there.
On Friday, police said they had raided properties in London, Birmingham, Brighton, Manchester and Surrey and arrested 11 people on charges of preparing terrorists acts. Six were later released. Police said it wasn’t clear if the perpetrator, Khalid Masood, was inspired by terrorist propaganda on his own or if he was directed from abroad. But the arrests appear to indicate he may have had associates.
Mr. Masood was born in Tunbridge Wells, south of London, as Adrian Russell Ajao. He got into trouble as a teenager and was first convicted in 1983 at the age of 18 for criminal damage. He’d had a string of convictions ever since with the latest coming in 2003 for possession of a knife after being initially charged with stabbing a man. At some point, he changed his name and moved around the country, ending up most recently in Birmingham.
Earlier this week, he rented a Hyundai SUV from an Enterprise Car Rental location in Birmingham and headed to Brighton where he spent the night before Wednesday’s attack. He told staff at the hotel that morning that he was “off to London today” and that the city “isn’t like it used to be.”
That afternoon, he used the vehicle to run over dozens of people on Westminster Bridge before crashing into a fence alongside Parliament. He then tried to run into the House of Commons and stabbed a police officer before being gunned down. The policeman and three other people died and 50 were injured.
Experts say Mr. Masood, 52, was unusually old for a terrorist. A recent study of 269 people in Britain who were either convicted of terrorism or carried out an attack between 1998 and 2015 found that just six were over the age of 45 and none were as old as 52. More than half were between the ages of 21 and 29, according to the study, which was done by a London-based think tank called the Henry Jackson Society.
Security consultant David Videcette, a former London police detective, said that while Mr. Masood was older than most people who commit terrorist acts, the characteristics of these individuals are changing. He noted that several Britons who left the country recently to join the Islamic State in Syria were middle-aged men and some had professional backgrounds. More women are becoming involved in terrorist activity too, he added.
“If we look at some of the things that have been going on, a lot suicide missions abroad have been done by people with degrees, medical backgrounds and who are outside the usual age brackets,” he said. I’m not sure that we have the right idea about putting people in boxes.”
Wagdy Loza, a terrorism expert at Queen’s University, said Mr. Masood’s age only highlighted the fact that anyone can become radicalized. “It’s all related to ideology,” he said. The Islamic State and others have sophisticated, persuasive messages they use to attract followers, he added. They also prey on people who feel like second-class citizens and have a “them-versus-us” mentality. All of which can be attractive to someone like Mr. Masood who spent a lot of time in jail.
Mr. Masood’s connection to Birmingham has also become the subject of intense investigation. The Henry Jackson study showed that five wards in the city accounted for one of the highest rates of terrorism convictions in the country, with 26 of the total 269 offenders coming from those neighbourhoods.
Mr. Videcette said it’s well-known that some low-income sections of Birmingham seem almost cut off from the rest of Britain, making them easy targets for radicalization. “We don’t appear to be doing too much about it. We need to get our [local] councils back in there, we need to get our police officers back in there. The local community needs to start rallying around the democratic process,” he said.
The method of Mr. Masood’s attack, using a vehicle and knives, was also reminiscent of the assault on soldier Lee Rigby. He was killed on a London street in 2013 by two men who ran over him in a car and then attacked him with knives. Police said both men had been radicalized at a local mosque. Prime Minister Theresa May has said that Mr. Masood was under investigation by security services several years ago, but that he was a peripheral figure and was not the subject of any current probe.
“There’s lots of questions that need to be asked about what’s happened here, why has this guy managed to get through,” Mr. Videcette said. “This shouldn’t have happened. Terrorism isn’t inevitable.”
As the investigation continued, life returned to normal around Westminster Palace, which is home to Parliament. However, security was tighter and dozens of police officers patrolled the streets. Crowds of people returned to the sidewalks and parks near Westminster.
A collection of faith leaders, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, held a brief memorial service in front of Westminster Abbey, which is across the street from Parliament. White roses lined the Carriage Gates, where police officer Keith Palmer died trying to stop the attack, and flowers piled up at several other locations that became makeshift memorials. There were also dozens of handwritten notes expressing condolences and defiance. One note printed in large black letters said: “It was a monster not a Muslim.”Report Typo/Error