Westminster crash: Driver 'tried to kill as many people as possible' in terror attack outside parliament, court hears

Salih Khater allegedly ploughed into cyclists before driving at uniformed police officers

Lizzie Dearden
Security Correspondent
Monday 08 July 2019 20:32
No-one was seriously injured in the attack in August 2018
No-one was seriously injured in the attack in August 2018

An alleged terrorist ploughed his car into victims outside the Houses of Parliament in a bid to “kill as many people as possible”, a court has heard.

Salih Khater is accused of trying to murder cyclists, pedestrians and police officers in Westminster on 14 August last year.

Prosecutors told the Old Bailey the 30-year-old looked up directions to Downing Street before driving to London from Birmingham overnight and carrying out “reconnaissance”.

The jury heard Mr Khater drove four laps around Parliament Square before striking in rush hour, hitting a group of cyclists waiting at a traffic light before swerving towards a barrier manned by uniformed police officers.

They dived out of the car’s path as it allegedly accelerated towards them, and no one was seriously injured.

Mr Khater, of Highgate Street in Birmingham, denies two counts of attempted murder and two alternative charges of attempting to cause grievous bodily harm.

Prosecutor Alison Morgan QC accused him of carrying out a “premeditated and deliberate attack on civilians and police officers in Parliament Square”.

"His weapon was not a gun or a knife but his car,” she added.

"First, he drove at cyclists waiting at traffic lights. Then he drove at police officers who were guarding the side entrance to the Palace of Westminster.

"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."

Ms Morgan said Mr Khater’s motives were unclear and “nothing of significance” was found at his home.

But she told the jury there was “no credible explanation” for the crash other than it being a “calculated and targeted attack”.

“The defendant selected an iconic site - this was no coincidence,” Ms Morgan said.

“It is a location of national importance and one that had been subjected to terrorist attacks in very recent history.”

Salih Khater charged over Westminster crash incident

The court heard Mr Khater was born in Darfur, Sudan, but arrived in the UK in 2010 and successfully claimed asylum after claiming to have been tortured because of links to the country’s Justice and Equality Movement.

Ms Morgan said he lived in different properties in Birmingham, including above an internet cafe where a patron noticed his “mood changed” in the months before the alleged attack.

The court heard Mr Khater had been studying accountancy at Coventry University, but failed his exams and was asked to leave at the end of the 2018 academic year.

During the same period, prosecutors said he displayed “signs of paranoia” about the actions of British authorities, writing an email to Jeremy Corbyn’s office on 24 May 2018 about an “event” which he believed involved the intelligence service.

In the email, Mr Khater said he was going to make a complaint to police, but Ms Morgan said there was no record of such a complaint being made.

The court heard the email response thanked him for his email to Mr Corbyn and stated: "We are sorry to hear about your personal issue."

The day before the attack, Mr Khater travelled to Peterborough and unsuccessfully applied for a fast-track UK passport, the court heard.

Evidence from his mobile phone showed he had looked up maps for 10 Downing Street and Westminster as potential ”deliberate targets“, jurors were told.

He set off from Birmingham to London just before 10pm, arriving after midnight, and CCTV captured Mr Khater arriving in Parliament Square just before 1am.

Salih Khater, in a picture posted on Facebook in 2010

The defendant was filmed driving around Westminster, allegedly checking the layout for the attack, before parking the car in Soho where he rested for around four-and-a-half hours.

The court heard that shortly before 6am, Mr Khater’s car drove back towards Parliament Square and passed through when it was “very quiet” and had no police officers at the barrier where he later crashed.

He then parked nearby, before setting off again shortly before 7am and conducting another lap of Parliament Square as two police officers arrived in high-visibility jackets on a slip-road outside the Palace of Westminster.

After three further laps of the iconic square, the court heard, Mr Khater “turned sharply” onto the wrong side of the road and ploughed into a group of cyclists before steering into a narrow slip road towards two police officers.

Jurors were shown CCTV footage of the defendant's silver Ford Fiesta driving into the cyclists before crashing into barriers as two uniformed police officers dived out of the way.

The car hit a pedestrian crossing the road and several cyclists, including a man who broke his finger and a woman who suffered a fractured collarbone.

Others were trapped under their bikes and left screaming in pain, jurors were told.

”He caused widespread fear and chaos but miraculously, and contrary to his intentions, he did not kill anyone that day,” Ms Morgan told the jury.

“Precisely why he wanted to kill people who he did not know is not clear.

“But 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.”

The trial continues.

Additional reporting by PA

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