Westminster attack: Salih Khater convicted of attempted murder

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Student, 30, ???miraculously??? did not kill anyone when he drove car at cyclists and police

Salih Khater.
Salih Khater drove around Parliament Square waiting for the area to become busier before launching his attack, the court heard. Photograph: Facebook

A man has been convicted of using his car as a weapon to run over cyclists and police officers close to parliament.

Salih Khater, 30, a failed accountancy student, carried out the ???premeditated attack??? in August 2018.

A jury at the Old Bailey in London convicted him of two counts of attempted murder. He will be sentenced at a later date.

The trial heard that Khater, who was living in Birmingham at the time, had driven through the night to reach London and then, as the area around parliament filled up in the morning, turned his silver Ford Fiesta into a weapon.

He was caught on CCTV hitting cyclists before moving on to a slip road and heading at speed towards police officers who were guarding a side entrance to the Palace of Westminster.

Injured cyclists after being hit by Salih Khater???s car
Injured cyclists after being hit by Salih Khater???s car. Photograph: Metropolitan police/PA

The jury heard the prosecutor Alison Morgan QC say Khater wanted to cause mass casualties. She said: ???His actions were not a mistake or as a result of some kind of mechanical error to his vehicle. They were deliberate and designed to cause maximum death and injury. He caused widespread fear and chaos, but miraculously, and contrary to his intentions, he did not kill anyone.???

The case was investigated by Scotland Yard???s counter-terrorism command and members of the jury were told they could infer his motivation was terrorism from the fact he chose asymbolic site.

But Whitehall sources say they are not classing it as a terrorist attack and Khater had no extremist propaganda in his home or on his electronic devices such as his phone, which is highly unusual for a jihadist.

A Whitehall source said: ???He was not known to the security services and there is no indication of an extremist mindset.???

Morgan told the jury: ???You may think that by targeting Parliament Square, by targeting people that he did not know, and ultimately by attacking police officers guarding the Palace of Westminster, the defendant had a terrorist motive.

???That is to say that he intended to use serious violence to pursue a religious, political or ideological cause. The prosecution allege that this is the obvious inference from what he did, where he did it and how he did it. But in fact the charges that you have to consider do not require you to determine that issue.???

After the guilty verdicts the Crown Prosecution Service???s counter-terrorism division said it was reasonable to assume he had a terrorist motive because he chose an iconic site of national importance that had been previously attacked by terrorists.

Jenny Hopkins, from the CPS, said: ???It was only quick reactions and good luck that stopped Salih Khater killing anyone when he drove his car into cyclists and police officers outside Westminster. Whatever his motives, this was not an accident. It was a deliberate attempt to kill and maim as many people as possible.???

Khater???s defence was that he was not trying to kill in the name of jihadism, but got lost in London and panicked.

He said he had not eaten since the morning before. He recalled hitting the cyclists and, explaining why he had hurtled towards the police officers, told jurors: ???I would say I have tried to find somewhere to stop after the incident at the traffic light. I collided with the barrier where two police officers were standing.???

Security around the Palace of Westminster had been tightened after an attack in March 2017 by a terrorist who had used a vehicle as a weapon before stabbing a police officer to death in the grounds of parliament.

Khater was originally from Darfur in Sudan. Morgan said his mood had worsened in the months before the incident and he had failed exams in accountancy at Coventry University.

Khater was showing signs of paranoia about the actions of the UK authorities and he sent an email in May 2018 to Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, complaining about his treatment, the jury heard. Morgan said: ???The response from a Labour party representative was understandably vague.???

He drove to London during the night and then drove around the Parliament Square area on August 2014 to familiarise himself with it. Immediately before driving his car at people, he ???conducted four laps??? around parliament, having waited for the area to get busier.

CCTV images show Salih Khater hitting cyclists, then driving at police officers before crashing into barriers.
CCTV images show Salih Khater hitting cyclists, then driving at police officers before crashing into barriers. Photograph: Metropolitan police/PA

Khater first hit cyclists, Morgan said, before driving at 32mph at PC Darren Shotton and PC Simon Short.

Morgan told the jury: ???The defendant selected an iconic site. This was no coincidence. It is a location of national importance, one that had been subjected to terrorist attacks in very recent history.???

Khater was arrested by armed police and did not claim the car was faulty, nor that he had a medical issue that may have explained his actions. He is believed to have been acting alone.

In 2017, Britain suffered five terrorist attacks. Four claimed lives: those at Westminster Bridge and on parliament itself, Manchester Arena, London Bridge and Finsbury Park. An attempted bombing of an underground train at Parson???s Green, west London, ended when a malfunction of the explosive device spared commuters from carnage.

The verdicts on Wednesday are thought unlikely to change Whitehall???s view that Khater was not a terrorist and that there were no jihadist attacks on the UK in 2018.