LONDON—A middle-aged man described as a former English teacher has been named by Scotland Yard as the suspected terrorist who carried out Britain’s most deadly terror attack in more than a decade.
The suspected killer was born Adrian Russell Ajao on Christmas Day in 1964 in Kent, a county to the east of London known as the “Garden of England.” He later changed his name to Khalid Masood, converted to Islam and moved to the West Midlands, where he rented the Hyundai SUV used for Wednesday’s attack.
At 52, Masood does not fit the usual profile of a jihadi terrorist—many of whom are in their 20s or even younger.
Of the eight known 2015 Paris attackers, seven were in their 20s with one aged 31. In the Berlin truck attack the driver was 24. The deadly truck attack in Nice, France, in July was carried out by a 31-year-old. Last time there was a mass terror attack in Britain—the 7/7 bombings in 2005— one of the killers was 30, the others were 22, 19 and 18.
Masood did become interested in violent extremism at a younger age but he remained “a peripheral figure” in the jihadist movement and MI5 decided not to continue monitoring him after investigating his activities.
"He’s older than one would expect, most of these attacks are slightly more youthful, hot-headed guys who perhaps have a bit less to lose,” Dr. Elisabeth Kendall, author of Twenty-First Century Jihad, told The Daily Beast. "Perhaps it’s slightly more difficult to manipulate and guide a 52-year-old than a teenager or someone in their early twenties, so he could genuinely be a lone wolf who just went off the rails.”
Security services do not currently believe that Masood’s attack on British democracy was directed by global terror groups; it is not thought that he was recruited by al Qaeda or anyone associated with the so-called Islamic State, despite ISIS claiming responsibility for the attack.
It is unclear what snapped, and turned Masood into a jihadi killer.
“It depends very much on time, place, even last-minute triggers," said Kendall. “Although it sounds like his own background fits fairly well—petty crime, violence.”
At Orly airport in Paris last Saturday a 39-year-old ex-convict high on alcohol, cocaine, and marijuana who had “screwed up” at a traffic stop and lightly wounded a cop with a pellet gun decided to end his life by attacking a fully armed woman soldier. He said he would die “for Allah” as he tried to grab her FAMAS automatic rifle. And the two other members of her patrol killed him on the spot.
In London, Scotland Yard said Masood had “a range of previous convictions for assaults, including GBH [grievous bodily harm], possession of offensive weapons and public order offenses.”
His first criminal conviction came in his teens when he was prosecuted for criminal damage. The offenses got worse, including weapons and assault charges. Before he embarked on his murderous rampage on Wednesday, Masood had not been found guilty of any criminal act since 2003, when he was charged with possession of a knife.
Like Masood, many Western-born perpetrators of terrorist attacks first attracted the attention of law enforcement for crimes unrelated to terrorism. Salah Abdeslam, one of the key suspects in the 2015 Paris attacks, was first arrested for attempting to rob a cash register. Said Kouachi, one of the shooters who attacked the Charlie Hebdo offices, was fined for selling counterfeit Nike products. Khalid and Ibrahim el-Bakraoui two of the perpetrators of the 2016 Brussels attacks—had a more serious background of armed robbery and weapons dealing. According to the Belgian federal prosecutors’ office, roughly half of radicalized Belgians who left the country to join the Islamic State had criminal records, usually for petty crime such as theft and assault.
The rise of the so-called Islamic State has made the crime-terror nexus stronger than ever before, according to a report by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalization that looked at the profiles of 79 European-born jihadists last year.
“The jihadist narrative—as articulated by the Islamic State—is surprisingly well-aligned with the personal needs and desires of criminals, and … it can be used to curtail as well as license the continued involvement in crime,” the report concluded.
According to a former neighbor in Winson Green, Birmingham, however, it seemed Masood had now settled down as a quiet family man.
Iwona Romek, 45, told The Sun that he was a keen gardener. "I would see him quite often, but it would just be a 'hello' and a 'how are you?'” she said. “He had a young child, who I'd think was about five or six years old. There was a woman living there with him, an Asian woman.”
Reports have suggested that Masood was a dedicated bodybuilder but photographs of him at the scene of the crime being treated with his t-shirt pulled up suggest he may also have given up the gym in his later years.
Police officers raided a number of homes in London, Wales and the Midlands overnight making nine arrests. It is unclear whether security services believe these people were part of a terror cell or if their suspected involvement in the attack that killed three people was secondary.
Scotland Yard has confirmed, however, that a 39-year-old woman in East London and a 58-year-old man in Birmingham have been arrested on suspicion of preparation of terrorist acts.
Masood hired a gray Hyundai SUV from a branch of Enterprise car rental in Birmingham. A little over 100 miles south stands Westminster Bridge where Masood mowed down a crowd of tourists that included a group of French school children and a couple from Utah who were on vacation in London to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary.
He crashed the vehicle at the foot of Big Ben before running toward the House of Commons with two knives. He was able to race past a vehicle barrier into New Palace Yard where he stabbed police officer Keith Palmer.
After a struggle with the policeman, Masood got up and ran towards the parliamentary building where hundreds of Members of Parliament were at work. A close protection officer assigned to look after the Minister of Defense drew his weapon and fired two shots that brought Masood’s mid-life crisis to an abrupt end.