The attacker behind the terrorist rampage at the gates of the Houses of Parliament has been named by police as Khalid Masood, 52, who was born in Kent and had previously been convicted of violent offences.
The assailant, who was shot dead on Wednesday as he attacked police officers in the shadow of Big Ben, had been known to MI5 but was considered to be a peripheral figure and had fallen from the intelligence picture.
Met police said Masood had previous convictions for a number of violent offences, including GBH and assault, but had never been found guilty of terror offences. His first conviction was in November 1983 for criminal damage and his last conviction was in December 2003 for possession of a knife, police said.
They added that he was known by a number of aliases and had most recently been living in the West Midlands. The Met’s head of counter-terrorism, Mark Rowley, said a woman in her mid-40s and a man in his mid-50s was among those killed in the attack as well as PC Keith Palmer, a 48-year-old husband and father.
The woman who died was Aysha Frade, 43, a teacher and mother of two, who worked as a teacher in London, and had family in the north-western Spanish town of Betanzos in Galicia, north-west Spain. Kurt Cochran, an American tourist from Utah, was named as the male victim of the attack. His wife Melissa is still in hospital, according to her sister in a public post on Facebook. Among the 29 treated for injuries at hospital were 12 Britons, three French children, two Romanians, four South Koreans, one German, one Pole, one Chinese national, one Irish national, one Italian, one American and two Greeks.
According to May, “The man was British-born and some years ago was once investigated by MI5 in relation to concerns of violent extremism. He was a peripheral figure. His case was historic. He was not part of the current intelligence picture.”
The police and security services monitor about 3,000 Britons, mainly Islamists, whom they regard as potentially capable of domestic terrorism. Of these, about 500 are the subject of active investigations and only a limited number become the targets of physical surveillance. The Guardian understands the attacker was not one of them. He was regarded as posing so little threat that he did not even make the list of 3,000.
“It is still our belief, which continues to be borne out by our investigation, that this attacker acted alone and was inspired by international terrorism,” Rowley said.
Amaq, the news agency used by Isis to broadcast propaganda, issued a statement claiming that the group was responsible for the attack, describing the attacker as a soldier of Islamic State.” The claim cannot be verified at this stage.
Armed police arrested eight people during late-night raids across the country, including in Birmingham and London. As officers attempt to piece together details of the attacker’s background and motives, armed police raided six addresses, including a second-floor flat above a row of shops on Hagley Road in Birmingham.
Witnesses to the search said they believed three men were arrested and one of the flat’s windows was covered in cardboard, with non-uniformed officers spotted taking pieces of equipment into the property.
The Hyundai Tucson used in the attack was rented from an Enterprise branch on Spring Hill passage in Birmingham, one mile from the property raided in Hagley Road.
Police officers were searching a second address in Quayside, Winson Green, and Birmingham. Police vans arrived at the property at about 1am, neighbors said, and uniformed officers were seen entering the flat.
A spokesperson for Enterprise Holdings said: “We can confirm that the car used in the tragic attack in London yesterday afternoon was one of ours. An employee identified the vehicle after seeing the license plate in an image online. We ran another check to verify, and immediately contacted the authorities.”
West Midlands police confirmed arrests were made at the addresses raided in Birmingham. A statement from the force said the arrests and searches were intelligence-led and there was no immediate risk to public safety. Extra officers would be out on patrol throughout the next few days in the city, the force said. Rowley said addresses were also searched in London and other parts of the country.
Cressida Dick, the incoming Met commissioner, Craig Mackey, the acting commissioner, and other officers held a minute’s silence in front of the “eternal flame” alight outside New Scotland Yard on Victoria Embankment, within sight of Westminster Bridge.
The new headquarters was set to be formally opened by the Queen on Thursday but the ceremony was cancelled. In a message to Mackey, the Queen said that she and Prince Philip had not been able to open the building for “very understandable reasons”.
The message continued: “My thoughts, prayers and deepest sympathy are with all those who have been affected by yesterday’s awful violence. I know I speak for everyone in expressing my enduring thanks and admiration for the members of the Metropolitan police service and all who work so selflessly to help and protect others.”
As a mark of respect Palmer’s shoulder number – 4157U – will be retired and not reissued to any other officer, the Met said.