The driver of a car arrested on suspicion of carrying out a terrorist attack outside the Houses of Parliament was identified Wednesday as Salih Khater, a British citizen who immigrated to England from Sudan.
Police say the 29-year-old drove a vehicle down from Birmingham, where he lived, to London early Tuesday morning. Images of his car were captured by CCTV as he wandered around the Soho and Whitehall areas before sideswiping victims and ramming into a barrier outside the Palace of Westminster at around 7:40 a.m. local time.
Authorities said that Khater was not known to police or counterterrorism units; he was not on a watch list.
Police on Tuesday searched addresses in Birmingham and Nottingham, confiscating computer equipment and interviewing residents.
Khater’s social media accounts suggested to enjoyed soccer and liked Sudanese and Western music, including Celine Dion.
Khater was arrested after his car rammed into the barrier at the Houses of Parliament. Police said he is being held on “suspicion of terrorist offenses.”
“Given that this appears to be a deliberate act, the method and this being an iconic site, we are treating it as a terrorist incident and the investigation is being led by officers from the Counter Terrorism Command,” said Neil Basu, police assistant commissioner.
Basu said officers were trying to establish Khater’s motive. “He is not currently cooperating,” he added.
Prime Minister Theresa May’s office said Britain’s counterterrorism police were currently carrying out 676 live investigations, up from more than 500 in March. The prime minister’s office said, “13 Islamist plots and four plots by far-right extremists had been foiled in the past 18 months.”
London Ambulance Service said its staff treated three people at the scene of Tuesday car ramming, two of whom ended up at a hospital. A third suffered minor injuries.
Several witnesses told British news media that the crash appeared to be intentional. The man’s silver Ford Fiesta sideswiped cyclists and pedestrians, striking several.
In Washington, President Donald Trump weighed in on the incident Tuesday morning on Twitter. “Another terrorist attack in London,” he wrote. “These animals are crazy and must be dealt with through toughness and strength!”
The Palace of Westminster, where Parliament convenes, bolstered security around the buildings in March 2017, after Khalid Masood drove his car into crowds along Westminster Bridge, killing four people. In that attack, Masood leaped from his smashed car with a knife and began slashing at police and passersby. He killed one policeman before he was shot and killed by armed officers.
Footage from a rooftop video camera of Tuesday’s attack showed the suspect’s car clipping cyclists and narrowly missing pedestrians, jumping a curb, weaving toward the barriers, before crashing outside the Parliament building, across the street from Westminster Abbey. Parliament is on summer recess.
Police immediately surrounded the car, which was traveling fast enough to deploy its air bags upon collision. Photographs taken at the scene show police surrounding a silver sedan, with automatic weapons pointed inside the car.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said: “All Londoners, like me, utterly condemn all acts of terrorism on our city. The response of Londoners today shows that we will never be cowed, intimidated or divided by any terrorist attack.”
May thanked the emergency services for their “immediate and courageous” response to the attack.
The 2017 vehicular and knife attack at Westminster by Masood, a 52-year-old Muslim convert born in Britain under the name Adrian Russell Ajao, was an attempt, according to police, to carry out “Islamist-related terrorism” that was “inspired” by Islamist militant groups overseas, but not directed by them.
In a WhatsApp message sent moments before the 2017 assault, Masood declared he was waging religious war on behalf of Muslim countries in the Middle East under attack by the West.
After the assault, British police bolstered security around Parliament, erecting metal barriers to limit access to the buildings and protect the site from vehicles deployed as battering rams.
(c) 2018, The Washington Post · William Booth