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Floral tributes to the victims of the Westminster terrorist attack are placed outside the Palace of Westminster, London, Monday March 27, 2017. (Matt Dunham/AP)
Floral tributes to the victims of the Westminster terrorist attack are placed outside the Palace of Westminster, London, Monday March 27, 2017. (Matt Dunham/AP)

Police probing London attacker's social media messaging Add to ...

Police in Britain are trying to establish who Khalid Masood contacted just before launching a terror attack in London last week.

Media reports have indicated that Mr. Masood, 52, sent a message via WhatsApp just before driving his SUV into a crowded sidewalk and stabbing a police officer while trying to run into Parliament. Five people died in the 82-second assault, including a policeman and Mr. Masood, who was gunned down by a security officer. Another 50 people were injured.

“There has been much speculation about who Masood was in contact with immediately prior to the attack,” Neil Basu, deputy assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police who is also senior national co-ordinator for U.K. counter-terrorism policing, said in a statement Monday. “All I will say on this point is that Masood’s communications that day are a main line of inquiry. If you heard from him on 22nd March, please come forward now, the information you have may prove important to establishing his state of mind.”

He added that Mr. Masood’s “attack method appears to be based on low-sophistication, low-tech, low-cost techniques copied from other attacks, and echo the rhetoric of [Islamic State] leaders in terms of methodology and attacking police and civilians, but at this stage I have no evidence he discussed this with others.”

Mr. Masood was born in the U.K. and changed his name in 2005. He was born Adrian Russell Ajao but used several aliases. Mr. Masood moved around Britain and spent time in Saudi Arabia, where he taught English. Saudi officials said he was not on their security watch list.

Related: London attacker's motive still a mystery, U.K. police say

Mr. Masood’s motive remains a mystery, and police have indicated they may never understand why he committed the attack. He had a long criminal record and spent time in jail as recently as 2003, when he was convicted for possession of a knife. But Mr. Basu said there were no indications he was radicalized while in jail.

“His last criminal offence was in 2003, and he was not a current subject of interest or part of the current domestic or international threat picture for either the security service or [counter terrorism] policing,” he said. “I know when, where and how Masood committed his atrocities, but now I need to know why. Most importantly, so do the victims and families.”

Home Secretary Amber Rudd has called on social media companies such as Google and Facebook, which owns WhatsApp, to do more to stop extremists from spreading their message. She is due to hold a meeting this week with executives from those companies and others to voice her concerns. Ms. Rudd told the BBC that messaging services such as WhatsApp should end the encryption of messages.

“That is my view. It is completely unacceptable; there should be no place for terrorists to hide. We need to make sure organizations like WhatsApp, and there are plenty of others like that, don’t provide a secret place for terrorists to communicate with each other,” Ms. Rudd told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show on Sunday. “We need to make sure that our intelligence services have the ability to get into situations like encrypted WhatsApp.”

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