Whitehall incident: Westminster attack foiled after terror suspect's family reportedly tipped off police

Telegraph Reporters

A suspected jihadist carrying a rucksack packed with knives was thought to be heading towards Downing Street when he was dramatically arrested by armed police, according to security sources.

The ‘lone wolf’ suspect had been under close surveillance when counter-terrorism officers ordered his immediate detention as he came within 300 yards of the gates of the Prime Minister’s residence.

It is understood that the suspect’s family had become concerned about his behaviour and reported him to the authorities several weeks ago. Investigators believe he was about to launch an attack.

The 27-year-old man, dressed head to toe in black, was wrestled to the ground by armed police officers as he walked among a crowd of tourists and workers in Parliament Street at just after 2.20pm yesterday.

His arrest came just five weeks - and a 100 yards away - from the spot where Khalid Masood was shot and killed within the grounds of the Palace of Westminster, having mowed down bystanders in a hired car driven over Westminster Bridge.

 

A Whitehall source told The Telegraph that the man, who is understood to have been born overseas but who lives in south east London, had been arrested as part on an “intelligence-led operation”. He had been followed on the Underground and is thought to have surfaced at St James’s park tube station before heading towards Westminster.

The investigation into the suspect will now look at how he may have been radicalised and the motives for the attack. Sources said he had not been in Syria.

Islamic State has called on jihadists to launch attacks on centres of power in the West.

It also comes a day after Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley, the national lead for counter terrorism, warned doctors and health workers were not doing enough to help police prevent terror attacks by mentally ill people who are targeted by extremist recruiters.

Since the 2011 Prevent Review all NHS bodies must train staff to spot the signs of radicalisation and report people they fear are at risk of becoming terrorists to the security services.  

Metropolitan Police said that out of 13 major attacks foiled by Scotland Yard since 2013, ‘a disproportionate number’ of those involved people with mental health issues.

 

 

 

A man armed with several knives has been arrested in Whitehall on suspicion of planning a terror attack, Scotland Yard said.

The suspect was carrying a rucksack containing at least three knives when he was detained "following a stop and search as part of an ongoing operation", police said.

Police were tipped of by the suspect's family, according to reports.

The suspect (pictured) is arrested by policeCredit: Heathcliff O'Malley for the Daily Telegraph

The Metropolitan Police said in a statement that he was held at approximately 2.22pm on Thursday by armed officers from the Specialist Firearms Command.

Where the man was arrested

It went on: "The man, aged in his late twenties, was arrested on suspicion of possession of an offensive weapon and on suspicion of the commission, preparation and instigation of acts of terrorism.

"Knives have been recovered from him.

"He is being detained under the Terrorism Act and is in custody in a south London police station.

Armed police tackle the suspect in WestminsterCredit: Dev Howard/TWITTER

"Detectives from the Counter Terrorism Command are continuing their investigation, and as a result of this arrest there is no immediate known threat."

The Telegraph understands that the man was known to the security services and was being watched as part of an ongoing counter-terrorism operation.

Officers moved in and detained him as he approached Westminster close to the scene of last month's terror attack by Khalid Masood.

The bearded suspect, who was dressed in dark clothing, was wrestled to the ground on a traffic island at the Parliament Square end of Whitehall, close to the Foreign Office and the entrance to Downing Street.

Images from the scene showed three knives and what appeared to be a mobile on the ground close to a brown rucksack.

An officer in forensic overalls could be seen taking photographs of the knives.

The suspect was detained at the scene for several minutes within view of journalists and passers by before he was eventually taken away in a police vehicle.

Recruiters Harry Peasnell, 27, and Andy Burnage, 22, were leaving the adjacent building which houses various Government offices after a meeting with officials when they were told over the tannoy the usual entrance on to Whitehall was closed.

As they made their way back towards Parliament from the alternative House Guards Road entrance they said they were pushed back up Great George Street by several plain clothes police officers.

They then made their way to Parliament Square where they said they saw a man in his 20s or 30s, who they thought was the suspect, being spoken to by police next to the wall of the offices.

Mr Peasnell, who says he regularly has meetings in Westminster, said police were "quick on the scene" and that he was not worried like he was during the terror attack in the area just weeks ago.

"Last time all the buildings were on lockdown and no one was allowed to leave," he said.

Westminster has been on a state of heightened alert since Masood launched his attack on March 22, killing five people, including Pc Keith Palmer.

Masood drove at pedestrians before stabbing Pc Palmer as he guarded the cobbled forecourt of the Palace of Westminster. He was shot dead by police.

Scotland Yard said there were no reports of any injuries.

A spokesman added: "The man, aged in his late twenties, was arrested on suspicion of possession of an offensive weapon and on suspicion of the commission, preparation and instigation of acts of terrorism.

"Knives have been recovered from him. He is being detained under the Terrorism Act and is in custody in a south London police station.

"Detectives from the Counter Terrorism Command are continuing their investigation, and as a result of this arrest there is no immediate known threat."

 

 

 

8:45PM

First test for new Met chief

The successful arrest is the first real test for Cressida Dick, the new Metropolitan Police Commissioner, who previously - and notoriously - had been in charge of the operation that led to the death of the innocent Brazilian electrician Jean Charles de Menezes who was mistaken for a terrorist when he was shot on the London Underground in July 2005.

Ms Dick briefed London mayor Sadiq Khan on yesterday’s arrest.

A spokesman for the mayor said: “Mr Khan is hugely grateful to the police for their swift, decisive and professional actions. He is hugely relieved there have been no casualties.” 

6:44PM

Suspect was under surveillance by anti-terror police 

The suspect in the incident was under surveillance by Scotland Yard's anti-terror squad, it has emerged

6:23PM

Tobias Ellwood and other MPs tweet praise for police

Tobias Ellwood, the hero MP who ran into danger when Khalid Masood killed PC Keith Palmer in order to try and save the policeman's life, has tweeted about today's incident.

Other MPs are also tweeting praise for the metropolitan police.

 

6:08PM

Nicholas Soames MP says police were "remarkable" and "courageous" today

 

6:07PM

Video: Theresa May pays tribute to police after Whitehall terror arrest

 

6:06PM

Reports suspect's family tipped off police

 

5:56PM

Another eyewitness has described what she saw

Helen Chandler Wilde told the BBC:  "I saw a couple of police officers with a guy interviewing him and then putting him in a car as well as a couple of police forensics officers photographing the scene.

"And I did see the knives on the floor with the brown backpack lying next to it which was in the middle of the intersection in Whitehall.

"I didn't see the guy, you know, being put on the floor by the police, so all I can imagine is that he was stopped there and dropped his things and then was taken to the other side of the road just outside the Treasury to be arrested and questioned which is where I saw him

"I'd say there were a dozen or two dozen [police officers] kind of spread out around Westminster and Parliament Square.

"He had his head low, his hood still up of his black hoodie, trying to hide his face from police, I don't know, but from photographs he appeared to be smirking.

"[People were] remarkably not scared at all, not worried, the road was shut off but only just, still on the other side of the road there were people on the bus stuck in traffic on the way home just like any normal day, there were even a couple of tourists coming up to me thinking the Queen was coming to visit because the road was shut. I had to disappoint them there."

5:40PM

Suspect believed to have been born outside the UK

BBC reporter Steve Swann tweeted: "The man arrested in #Westminster today is believed to be a 27-year-old British citizen living in London but born outside the UK."

 

5:30PM

Full quote from Theresa May

Theresa May said: "It shows that our police and intelligence and security services are on the alert, as they always are, looking to keep us safe and secure. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to these people, many of whom are unseen, unheard, yet the job they do day in, day out to keep us secure is a really important one and we should thank them for it."

 

4:07PM

Theresa May kept in the loop

Prime Minister Theresa May was away from Number 10 on a campaign visit at the time of the incident, which did not disrupt work in Downing Street, said a spokeswoman.

"This is an ongoing police operation and we are monitoring it," said the Number 10 spokeswoman. "The Prime Minister has been informed by officials and she will be updated, as usual for incidents like this."

4:05PM

'I saw arrest happen'

A French tourist, who was in New York on 9/11 and was visiting London with her daughter, saw the arrest happen.

The witness, who declined to be named, said: "I was here half an hour ago. We just saw the man arrested and that's all.

"He was very calm. I think they got him on the ground, then they stood him up against the wall.

Firearms officiers detain a manCredit: NIKLAS HALLE'N/AFP/Getty Images

"There were lots of policemen. The road was blocked.

"We didn't stay here, we just moved because I was a bit afraid because of my daughter.

"We saw the helicopter was here so we came back to see what was going on.

"I was in New York on September 11, so I am a bit scared of these things and being in the wrong place at the wrong moment."

4:00PM

Heightened security at Westminster

The latest security incident comes after Westminster was put on a heightened state of alert following a major terror attack just over a month ago.

Khalid MasoodCredit: PA

Security in the area has been noticeably more high profile since Khalid Masood killed four people by ramming them with his car on Westminster Bridge before stabbing to death Pc Keith Palmer just inside the grounds of Parliament on March 22.

In the aftermath of the assault, authorities have reviewed how to keep the area as safe as possible.

Armed police officers have been more visible patrolling the Palace of Westminster since the attack, which also left Masood dead from gunshot injuries.

82 seconds of hell | How the terror attack unfolded across Westminster Bridge

 

3:52PM

Mayor thanks police

More praise for the officers at the scene, from Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan:

 

3:46PM

Forensics at the scene

Police forensics officers scour the scene for clues:

Forensic officers pick up knives at the sceneCredit: Yui Mok/PA Wire
A police forensics officer collects evidence on WhitehallCredit: Justin TALLISJUSTIN TALLIS/AFP/Getty Images
A suspect was arrested following an incident in Whitehall in LondonCredit: Lauren Hurley/PA Wire

 

3:36PM

Incident treated as 'terrorism'

Scotland Yard has released this statement confirming the incident is being treated as a suspected terror attack:

A man has been arrested in Whitehall this afternoon, at approximately 14:22, following a stop and search as part of an ongoing operation.

The man was arrested in Parliament Street, junction with Parliament Square, by armed officers from the Met’s Specialist Firearms Command.

The man, aged in his late twenties, was arrested on suspicion of possession of an offensive weapon and on suspicion of the commission, preparation and instigation of acts of terrorism. Knives have been recovered from him.

He is being detained under the Terrorism Act and is in custody in a south London police station.

Detectives from the Counter Terrorism Command are continuing their investigation, and as a result of this arrest there is no immediate known threat.

3:26PM

Face of the suspect

Images of a suspect being detained by police at the scene are dropping:

A man is held by police in Westminster after an arrest was made on Whitehall in central LondonCredit: REUTERS/Toby Melville
Officers lead a suspect awayCredit: Geoff Pugh

 

3:19PM

MP pays tribute to police bravery

Tory MP James Cleverly immediately paid tribute to the officers involved:

Here is video taken of the suspect being taken away for questioning: 

And here is footage of police closing off Whitehall:

 

3:04PM

Witnesses see knives

Witnesses on Twitter are posting up pictures of knives at the scene:

 

3:03PM

Suspect did not struggle

More from Kate McCann:

The man who is currently being detained by police officers, thought to be the man who owned the backpack, is dressed in black and looks calm. He is not struggling. 

Two men who were in the HMRC building say they were about to leave when an announcement was made over the tannoy saying the exit onto Whitehall was closed.

They left by another exit and tried to walk up Whitehall but were blocked by plainclothes officers who closed off the street with tape.

They say "officers then descended from everywhere, really quickly" and detained the man currently being held. 

They didn't see him with the backpack. 

Both said everything happened really fast and plainclothes police were on the scene within minutes. 

2:58PM

'It looks like a knife'

Our reporter Kate McCann, who is part of our team based in Westminster, reports:

A police forensics officer is taking pictures of a backpack and what looks like it could be a knife on a traffic island in the middle of Whitehall.

The crossing has been sealed off as has the side of the road towards Trafalgar Square.

Armed police are guarding the scene and keeping people back but they don't seem to be concerned that the backpack may contain anything like a bomb as officers are walking around the area.

Witnesses are reported to have seen a man take a knife out of his backpack.

The man is currently being held by two police officers just next to HMRC on Whitehall.

2:57PM

Westminster on lockdown?

Scotland Yard has confirmed that road closures are in place:

 

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