By Karla Adam and Brian Murphy,
LONDON — British police on Thursday identified the lone attacker accused of carrying out a deadly knife and vehicle rampage as Khalid Masood, a 52-year-old British-born man who had a criminal record but was not suspected of plotting to “mount a terrorist attack.”
In a statement, Scotland Yard said Masood was not the subject of any current investigations and had not been convicted of any terrorism offenses before police say he unleashed Wednesday’s bloodshed.
The attack left three people dead in central London — an American man and British woman mowed down by his SUV on the Westminster Bridge and a police officer stabbed outside Parliament — before the suspect was fatally shot by police. At least 29 people were injured, seven of them critically.
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Scotland Yard said Masood was “known to police” and had a range of previous convictions for assaults, possession of offensive weapons and public order offenses. His last conviction was in December 2003 for possession of a knife.
“There was no prior intelligence about his intent to mount a terrorist attack,” Scotland Yard said, but it gave no other details about Masood or his family background.
Earlier Thursday, British Prime Minister Theresa May said the attacker was once investigated by Britain’s MI5 security service for possible extremist links but was “not part of the current intelligence picture.”
May did not name the assailant in her remarks, but she offered new details about past scrutiny by authorities, who described the London attacks as “inspired by international terrorism.”
Shortly after May spoke, the Islamic State-linked news site Amaq carried a statement calling the attacker a “soldier” of the group’s self-proclaimed caliphate. British authorities have announced no links between the suspect and the Islamic State, but the militant group has often independently asserted ties to various attacks around the world.
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Across the English Channel in Antwerp, Belgium, authorities were placed on high alert after a man tried to drive a car carrying weapons, including a gun, into a pedestrian zone.
Belgian police said the car, with French license plates, sped onto the street, forcing people to jump out of the way. Belgian federal prosecutor Eric Van der Sijpt identified the driver as a French citizen, Mohamed R., 39, and said a long knife, a gun and a container containing an as-yet-unidentified substance were found in the trunk. Further details were not immediately available, but the case was referred to Belgian federal prosecutors — whose cases include militant attacks or threats.
In her statement to the House of Commons, May said that the assailant was born in Britain and was investigated by security services “some years ago . . . in relation to concerns about violent extremism.”
“He was a peripheral figure,” she added. “The case was historic. He was not part of the current intelligence picture. There was no prior intelligence of his intent or of the plot. Intensive investigations continue.”
British media reported that Masood rented the Hyundai i40 used in the attack from a rental company in Birmingham, Britain’s second-largest city.
Meanwhile, police held at least eight people after sweeps in London and Birmingham linked to the investigation. About a mile away from the rental company in Birmingham, police guarded the entrance to the apartment building where one of the raids took place.
In London, Mark Rowley, the acting deputy police commissioner, said 29 people injured in Wednesday’s attack were being treated in hospitals and that seven were in critical condition.
“At this stage, we have no specific information about further threats to the public,” he said.
A minute’s silence was observed in Parliament, Scotland Yard and London’s City Hall to honor the lives lost in the attack. The observance took place at 9:33 a.m. in tribute to slain police officer Keith Palmer, who wore the shoulder number 933 on his uniform.
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Queen Elizabeth II, who was due to open the new Scotland Yard building Thursday but postponed the ceremony, said that her “thoughts, prayers, and deepest sympathy are with all those who have been affected by yesterday’s awful violence.”
The attack — which unfolded around some of London’s most famous landmarks — carried hallmarks of strikes last year in Nice and Berlin, where vehicles were used as tools of terrorism.
The assailant first plowed the Hyundai SUV through terrified pedestrians along the bridge, killing at least two people: Aysha Frade, a 43-year-old mother of two, who was reportedly walking on Westminster Bridge on her way to pick up her children; and a man from Utah, Kurt Cochran, who was in London with his wife, Melissa, celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary.
On Facebook, the wife’s sister said Cochran died of his injuries, while Melissa had several broken bones. “While we are glad she survived, our hearts are broken and will never be the same after losing our dear uncle, brother-in-law, father,” Melissa’s sister wrote. “Kurt, you are a HERO, and we will never forget you.”
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In a statement released through the Mormon church, the Cochran family said that the couple had been in London for an anniversary trip and had been scheduled to return to the United States on Thursday.
In a Twitter post, President Trump shared “prayers and condolences” with Cochran’s family and friends.
The injured represented a wide range of nationalities: 12 Britons, three French schoolchildren, two Romanians, four South Koreans, two Greeks, one German, one Pole, one Irish, one Chinese, one Italian and one American.
One Romanian woman who was walking along Westminster Bridge plunged into the Thames, but was pulled alive from the river.
British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson said the international scope of the casualties “goes to show, an attack on London is an attack on the world.”
“Our houses in Parliament have been attacked for centuries, by all kinds of people,” Johnson told reporters at the United Nations. “But their ideals — freedom, democracy, the equality of human beings under law — are stronger than any adversary, and they will prevail.”
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After crossing the bridge, the attacker rammed his vehicle into the fence encircling Parliament and charged with a knife at officers stationed at the iron gates leading to the Parliament grounds. He killed one officer and injured three others before he was shot and killed by police.
“Unfortunately, we’re seeing an increasing number of terrorist attacks in the West which use unsophisticated methods,” said Shiraz Maher, deputy director of International Center for the Study of Radicalization at King’s College London.
“These are plots that are very easy to construct, require little money, planning, and expertise, but which are nonetheless highly effective in causing death and destruction,” he added.
Amid the attack probe, tributes poured in for Palmer, the officer who was fatally stabbed, a 48-year-old husband and father who was unarmed at the time of the attack.
“He was a strong, professional public servant,” lawmaker James Cleverly said in an emotional speech in Parliament.
Lawmakers also acknowledged Tobias Ellwood, a senior official at Britain’s Foreign Office, who tried in vain to save Palmer’s life.
Michael Fallon, Britain’s defense secretary, said security arrangements at Parliament, which has a mix of armed and unarmed officers, would now be reviewed. But he stressed that “Parliament cannot be hermetically sealed.”
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The attack occurred on Parliament’s busiest day of the week, when the prime minister appears for her weekly questions session and the House of Commons is packed with visitors.
The Palace of Westminster, the ancient seat of the British Parliament, is surrounded by heavy security, with high walls, armed officers and metal detectors. But just outside the compound are busy roads packed with cars and pedestrians.
British security officials have taken pride in their record of disrupting such attacks even as assailants in continental Europe have slipped through. On Thursday, May said that since June 2013, police and intelligence services have disrupted 13 terrorist plots in Britain.
Murphy reported from Washington. Adam Taylor and Isaac Stanley-Becker in London, Rick Noack in Birmingham, Michael Birnbaum in Brussels, Griff Witte in Madrid, James McAuley in Paris and William Branigin, Carol Morello and Mark Berman in Washington contributed to this report.
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By Karla Adam and Brian Murphy,