British police on Wednesday obtained more time to question a man arrested outside the Houses of Parliament for attempted murder and suspected terrorism after a car ploughed into cyclists before crashing into protective barriers.
Three people were injured when the 29-year-old, named by media as Salih Khater, careered over a pavement and into the group of cyclists during Tuesday’s morning rush-hour in Westminster.
Police said the man, a British national originally from Sudan, was initially arrested on suspicion of terrorism offences but had now been “further arrested for attempted murder”.
Westminster Magistrates’ Court approved a warrant Wednesday to continue holding the suspect until Monday, authorities added.
The BBC reported that he came to Britain as a refugee and had been granted asylum. He remains in custody at a south London police station.
Two of the injured victims — a man and a woman — were taken to hospital but have now been discharged. The third was treated at the scene.
The incident had disturbing parallels with an attack last year, when a man drove his car into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge before crashing outside parliament and running inside.
Khalid Masood fatally stabbed a police officer guarding parliament — one of five people killed that day — before being shot dead.
The man involved in Tuesday’s incident was believed to be from Birmingham, according to his local MP — the same English city where Masood also lived.
Police searched two addresses in Birmingham on Tuesday and were at a third address on Wednesday. Another location in nearby Nottingham was also searched.
Son of Sudanese farmers
Top police counter-terrorism officer Neil Basu said on Tuesday that the suspect was not believed to be known to intelligence agencies, but British media reported he was known to local police.
Reports said that Khater is a shop manager in Birmingham and had studied at Sudan University of Science and Technology, citing his Facebook page.
His brother described him as a “normal person” with no fanatical ideas, and no links to any religious group, according to the BBC.
Abdullah Khater told the broadcaster his family — who are originally from Darfur in Sudan — was in “a state of shock” over the incident.
Meanwhile Abubakr Ibrahim, a childhood friend, told The Times: “He is not a terrorist. I have known him since childhood. He is a good man.”
He told the newspaper Khater was the son of sorghum farmers, and had moved to Britain about five years ago in order to earn money to help his family.
A spokesman for Coventry University in central England confirmed Khater began studying accountancy there in September, but dropped out in May.
The Daily Mail tabloid reported friends of Khater saying that his father and brother had recently died within months of each other.
It added that he had shared music with his friends on Facebook, including Celine Dion, Eminem and Rihanna, but had not posted much for several years.
One of the places police have visited is an internet cafe in Birmingham, where Khater regularly visited.
The cafe owner said Khater lived in a flat above the parade of shops where it was located, but moved out a few months ago.
Local resident Ahmed Abdi, who is originally from Somalia, told reporters he was “shocked” to see Khater’s picture in the news.
“He was around here almost every day and I was here yesterday when the police turned up,” he said.
“He was very, very quiet and he never spoke to anybody.”
Police believe the car involved in the attack, a silver Ford Fiesta, travelled from Birmingham to London on Monday night, arriving just after midnight.
It drove around the Tottenham Court Road area — near Oxford Street — from around 1:25am (0025 GMT) before heading to the area around parliament around 6:00am (0500 GMT).
The alleged attack took place around 7:30am.
The car crashed into a security barrier, one of many erected on key British sites in the wake of the September 11 attacks in the US in 2001, and reinforced in recent years.
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said he backed the idea of banning vehicles from some areas around parliament.
“I’ve been an advocate for a while now of “part-pedestrianising” Parliament Square,” he told BBC radio.
But he warned any changes must not lose “the wonderful thing about our democracy which is people having access to parliamentarians, people being able to lobby Parliament, visitors being able to come and visit”.