The terrorist attack near the British Parliament on Wednesday, in which a man rammed a car into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge in London, parallels last year’s incidents in Berlin and in Nice where large vehicles were also used to kill crowds of people. In the aftermath of these events, the attackers have been widely called “lone wolves." This is a myth that must be dispelled. Lone actors they were, but only on the day of the attack.
In London, the assailant has been identified as Khalid Masood, a 52-year-old British-born man, who had recently been living in Birmingham, a major city in the West Midlands. He had used several aliases, including his birth name Adrian Russell Elms (later Ajao after his mother’s marriage), and had at some point converted to Islam. He was married and had children. The police had previously investigated him but determined he was not a security risk.
On Wednesday night and Thursday morning, as more arrests were made in Birmingham and London, it became clear Masood had not acted alone. None of the other suspects involved, of which there are now at least 11, have been named, but unusually, three of them are women. These arrests suggest that Masood was part of a network of jihadist extremists in Birmingham, which The Times notes is a recruiting ground for the Islamic State. There is a high concentration of jihadist extremists within five of the city's 23 council wards. Masood had also lived in Luton, a town north of London that is considered another hotbed of extremism. In February, officials arrested five people there who had been radicalized by the preacher Anjem Choudary.
Predictably, two hours after the attack, supporters of the Islamic State (ISIS) took credit. An online forum, Ansar Alkhelafa Europe, managed by a group that calls itself the Ansar al-Mujahideen Network, was among the first. The site is registered to addresses in Roubaix, France. The day after the attack, the Islamic State’s news agency Amaq sent its congratulations, calling the assailant “a soldier of the Islamic State.” This is a standard term used by ISIS. Also standard would be a posthumously-released video of the perpetrator declaring his allegiance to the self-declared caliph of ISIS, Abu al-Baghdadi. If such a video emerges in Masood’s case, then it can be said with some certainty that ISIS had an active role in planning the attack.
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