Briton From Sudan Is Named as Suspect in London Crash
Posted August 15, 2018 4:33 p.m. EDT
Updated August 15, 2018 4:36 p.m. EDT
LONDON — Police in London on Wednesday identified a Sudanese-born Briton from Birmingham as the driver who had plowed a car into three people and crashed outside Parliament, leaving authorities trying to pry a motive from a suspect they said was uncooperative.
The Metropolitan Police said a 29-year-old man had been arrested on suspicion of preparing an act of terrorism and on a charge of attempted murder. Local news reports identified the suspect as Salih Khater.
Authorities said they were treating the events on Tuesday as an act of terrorism, “given that this appears to be a deliberate act,” because of the location — the center of British politics — and the method used. The Houses of Parliament have been the target of terrorist attacks before, and past episodes have involved drivers deliberately steering vehicles into pedestrians.
The driver in this episode, who was swarmed by armed officers Tuesday after the silver Ford Fiesta crashed into cyclists, pedestrians and a concrete barrier outside Parliament, was not cooperating, authorities said.
“The priority of the investigation team continues to be to understand the motivation behind this incident,” the Metropolitan Police said in a statement.
As detectives searched three addresses in the Midlands region of England — two in Birmingham, Britain’s second-largest city, and one in Nottingham — as part of the investigation, a portrait of the suspect and his movements has begun to emerge.
According to police, the driver arrived in London from Birmingham early Tuesday, and drove around Tottenham Court Road and then to the Houses of Parliament. At 7:37 a.m., his car hit and injured three people and stopped at the security barrier.
Security camera footage broadcast by the BBC showed the car making a sharp turn to travel the wrong way down one-way traffic lanes, then driving over an island in the middle of the street before entering a side lane, where it hit the barrier.
A man and a woman were taken to the hospital with injuries that were not life-threatening, while one man was treated at the scene, officials said.
Khater lived above shops in Birmingham before moving to the Highgate neighborhood, according to the BBC. The British broadcaster said Khater came from Darfur in 2010 and later became a British citizen.
The BBC quoted a man who said he was Khater’s brother and described his family as being in “a state of shock” over the arrest.
Nassar Mahmood, the trustee of the Birmingham Central Mosque, said after talking to people in the Sudanese community who knew Khater that he “had been trying to get a visa from the Sudanese Embassy to go back to Sudan.”
Shortly before it was shut down Wednesday, Khater’s Facebook page said he was born in Wad Madani, a city on the banks of the Blue Nile, and that he had studied engineering in Sudan. British news outlets reported that he later studied accounting at Coventry University. University officials could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday.
It appeared he had most recently worked as a shop manager in Birmingham. Khater’s Facebook page included posts about listening to sentimental songs like Celine Dion’s “Because You Loved Me,” and Eminem’s “Love The Way You Lie.” He was also a fan of Al-Merrikh SC, a Sudanese soccer club. Khater was not known to authorities in Britain, officials said.
The Parliament building, also called the Palace of Westminster, is surrounded by some of London’s busiest streets, with traffic passing much closer than it does to the White House or to the U.S. Capitol, making security a challenge.
Mayor Sadiq Khan has suggested that Parliament Square could be turned into a pedestrian-only site to thwart future vehicle attacks.
Parliament is already ringed by crash bollards, balustrades and steel barricades, put in place after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States and the London bombings on July 7, 2005. Terrorist attacks in Paris in 2015 and in Brussels in 2016 led to even tighter security.
“I have been an advocate for some time now of part-pedestrianizing Parliament Square,” Khan told the BBC program “Today.” Still, he said, he had to make sure “we don’t lose the wonderful thing about our democracy, which is people having access to parliamentarians, people being able to lobby Parliament and visitors being able to visit Parliament.”
Mark Rowley, the former counterterrorism chief for the Metropolitan Police, said on “Today” that security arrangements in the area had helped reduce the effects of the crash.
“This person was driving around for some time,” Rowley said. “He didn’t find a weak spot and ends up doing a fairly chaotic attack, which fortunately only resulted in injuries, not in death.”
“The physical protection around Parliament worked very well, and the police response was brilliant, quick and massively careful, given the risk that they were rushing into,” he added.
Khalid Masood, another Briton from Birmingham, mowed down pedestrians outside Parliament in March 2017, killing five people and injuring more than 50 others.