Belgium raises security in Antwerp after high-speed car
LONDON, March 23, (Agencies): The attacker who killed three people near parliament in London before being shot dead was named on Thursday as a 52-year-old British-born man, Khalid Masood, who was once investigated by MI5 intelligence officers over concerns about violent extremism.
Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement issued by its Amaq news agency, but did not name Masood and gave no details.
It was not clear whether the attacker was directly connected to the jihadist group. Police said Masood was born in the county of Kent in southeast England and was most recently living in the West Midlands region of central England. “Masood was not the subject of any current investigations and there was no prior intelligence about his intent to mount a terrorist attack,” the Metropolitan Police said in a statement. “However, he was known to police and has a range of previous convictions for assaults, including GBH (grievous bodily harm), possession of offensive weapons and public order offences.”
Prime Minister Theresa May told parliament the attacker had once been investigated by the MI5 intelligence agency over concerns about violent extremism, but was a peripheral figure. Police said Masood had never been convicted of a terrorism offence. His first conviction was in 1983 for criminal damage and his last one was in December 2003 for possession of a knife.
During five minutes of mayhem in the heart of London on Wednesday, Masood sped across Westminster Bridge in a car, ploughing into pedestrians. He then ran through the gates of the nearby parliament building and fatally stabbed an unarmed policeman before being shot dead. Police arrested eight people at six locations in London and Birmingham in the investigation into the attack, which May said was inspired by a warped Islamist ideology.
The Enterprise rental car company said the vehicle used in the attack had been rented from its Spring Hill branch in Birmingham, which is located in the West Midlands. About 40 people were injured in the attack, of whom 29 remain in hospital, seven in critical condition. May visited some of the wounded in hospital on Thursday, her spokesman said. Speaking at the United Nations in New York, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson urged Internet providers and social media networks to do more to curb extremist propaganda. “They’ve got to look at the stuff that’s going up on their sites, they’ve got to take steps to invigilate it, to take it down where they can,” he said.
The bloodshed in London took place on the first anniversary of attacks that killed 32 people in Brussels, and resembled Islamic State-inspired attacks in France and Germany where vehicles were driven into crowds.
The dead were Masood, two members of the public, and Keith Palmer, the 48-year-old policeman stabbed by Masood. “He will be deeply missed. We love him so much,” Palmer’s family said in a statement. He was married with a fiveyear- old daughter. A minute’s silence was held in parliament and outside police headquarters on Thursday morning. A police twitter account earlier said it was held at 0933 GMT because 933 was the shoulder number on Palmer’s uniform, but that tweet was later deleted and police released a different number.
The attack on parliament was the deadliest in Britain since 2005, when 52 people were killed by Islamist suicide bombers on London’s public transport system. Police had given Wednesday’s death toll as five but revised it to four on Thursday.
The casualties included 12 Britons, three French children, two Romanians, four South Koreans, one German, one Pole, one Chinese, one American and two Greeks, May said. “My thoughts, prayers and deepest sympathy are with all those who have been affected by yesterday’s awful violence,” Queen Elizabeth said in a message. US tourist Kurt Cochran was named as one of the dead in a Facebook post by family member Shantell Payne. “With a heavy heart I must pass the sad news of our beautiful brother, father, husband, son and friend Kurt Cochran, he could not overcome the injuries he received in the London terror attacks,” Payne wrote. Her post said Cochran’s wife, Melissa Payne Cochran, was in hospital with a broken leg and rib and a cut on her head. The couple were in Europe to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. US President Donald Trump paid homage to Cochran in a tweet, calling him “a great American”. Many have been shocked that the attacker was able to cause such mayhem in the heart of the capital equipped with nothing more than a hired car and a knife. “This kind of attack, this lone-wolf attack, using things from daily life, a vehicle, a knife, are much more difficult to forestall,” defence minister Michael Fallon told the BBC.
Three French high-school students on a school trip to London were among the injured. French Foreign Minister Jean- Marc Ayrault met some of their fellow students near the hospital where they were being treated. Their lives were not in danger. Ayrault later attended the session in parliament where May spoke to show solidarity. France has been hit by repeated deadly Islamist attacks over the past two years. Elswhere, Belgian authorities tightened security Thursday in the port city of Antwerp after a Frenchman drove his car at high speed through a busy shopping area, forcing pedestrians to jump out of the way. French President Francois Hollande compared the incident to the attack in London that that left three people dead Wednesday, saying the Frenchman was “trying to kill people or create a dramatic event.” The federal prosecutor’s office said the car was intercepted late Thursday morning at the port docks and police arrested a man, identified as 39-year-old Mohamed R, who has been living in France. In the car, authorities found knives, a shotgun and a gas can with an unknown liquid.
There were no immediate reports of injuries. An official at the prosecutor’s office, who asked not to be identified because the investigation was still ongoing, said the suspect “was under the influence” but refused to elaborate whether it was drugs or alcohol. Authorities immediately raised security in the center of Antwerp. At first sight, the incident appeared to have the hallmarks of several extremist attacks in Europe — a vehicle in a busy area bent on mowing down pedestrians. Trucks were used last year in deadly attacks in Nice and Berlin, and an SUV was used Wednesday in London, where three people died in a rampage close to the British Parliament.
The attacker was shot dead by police. The office said “because of these elements, and the events in London yesterday, the case is being taken on by the federal prosecutor’s office,” which usually deals with extremist attacks. Prime Minister Charles Michel said “we remain vigilant. Our security services have done excellent work.” He also expressed sincere condolences to British Prime Minister Theresa May, saying the two nations are “working in close cooperation with our security and intelligence services.”