Author: Cahal Milmo
The former refugee arrested on suspicion of terror offences after a car crashed outside the Houses of Parliament had recently been kicked off his university course and claimed he was travelling to London to obtain a visa to return to his native Sudan on the day of the incident.
Salih Khater, 29, continued to be questioned by counter-terrorism officers yesterday after he was further arrested on suspicion of attempted murder following the collision between his car and a group of cyclists outside the Palace of Westminster at 7.40am on Tuesday.
Shy and peaceable Despite his refusal to answer questions put to him by officers, police were racing to build a picture of the ex-student, whose friends described him as a shy and peaceable individual who had never expressed any extreme religious or political views.
Number plate recognition cameras have established that the Ford Fiesta driven by Mr Khater spent five hours in the Tottenham Court Road area of central London, popular with restaurant goers and revellers, before travelling to Westminster during rush hour.
Leaders of the Muslim community in Birmingham, where Mr Khater had been living, said he had told members of the Sudanese community that he wanted to travel to London overnight on Monday to collect travel documents from the Sudanese embassy, which is situated close to Westminster.
‘Not a fervent worshipper’
Nasser Mahmood, a trustee of the Birmingham Central Mosque, said: “The picture we are getting is that he was on his way to the Sudanese embassy. Some of them know him personally. He wasn’t known to be a fervent worshipper and as far as we know he never attended the mosque here.”
The i understands that detectives are looking closely at the recent online history of Mr Khater and that his browsing of the conflict in Syria forms one potential line of inquiry as they seek information on why he might have targeted Westminster.
The keen music and football fan is believed to have arrived in Britain in 2010 as an asylum seeker after his family left the troubled Darfur region of Sudan. He was granted a British passport in the past two years, although it was reported that the Home Office had recently opened an investigation into alleged irregularities in his citizenship application.
Struggling to advance
Separate evidence suggested that Mr Khater, who was single and until recently lived alone in a flat above a Birmingham internet cafe, may have been struggling to advance in his adoptive country.
Coventry University confirmed yesterday that he had failed to complete an accountancy degree and left in May. It is understood that he did not pass the first year of the course after starting his studies last September, although he did complete a science diploma at a Birmingham further education college between 2014 and 2017.
Friends said that Mr Khater had become withdrawn following the death earlier this year of his father, an arable farmer in a rural area to the south east of the Sudanese capital of Khartoum.
His brother, Abdullah, told the BBC that Salih was a “normal person” with no extremist views or links. Mr Khater said his family were in “state of shock” over the incident, during which the silver Ford Fiesta ploughed into a group of cyclists waiting at traffic lights before speeding into a barrier erected to prevent vehicle attacks on Parliament.
Scotland Yard, which said Mr Khater had been arrested on a further offence of suspected attempted murder, said its priority “continues to be to understand the motivation behind this incident”.
Searches at three properties – two in Birmingham, and one in Nottingham linked to the car driven by Mr Khater – were concluded yesterday, including at the flat above the Bunna internet cafe in Sparkhill area of Birmingham where the suspect lived for nine months until this May. The address is close to the former home of Khalid Masood, who launched a murderous vehicle and knife attack on Parliament last year.
A further location – a flat in a residential tower block in the Highgate area of Birmingham believed to have been Mr Khater’s most recent address – continued to be searched yesterday.
Witnesses described how the driver of the Ford Fiesta had appeared undisturbed by his actions as it struck the cyclists, leaving three people requiring treatment. The most seriously injured – a woman understood to have suffered a broken hip – was discharged from hospital yesterday.
Mr Khater’s Facebook page, which was yesterday removed from public view, described him as a shop manager who had previously studied at the Sudan University of Science and Technology in Khartoum. His posts had been intermittent and most recently featured pictures of huts and a desert scene in Sudan.
In one message in 2011, Mr Khater apologised for disappearing for an unspecified period but otherwise his postings were unremarkable, featuring selfies and videos of singers including Celine Dion and Rihanna. He listed his favourite quote as “love is only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend”.