Student who drove at cyclists and police at Parliament guilty of attempted murder

Tristan Kirk, Harriet Brewis

An asylum seeker who rammed his car into cyclists outside Parliament before trying to run down police guards in a determined attempt to “kill and maim” as many people as possible is facing years in prison today.

Salih Khater, 30, circled Parliament Square four times before accelerating his Ford Fiesta at a group of cyclists waiting at traffic lights.

Leaving several of them wounded on the ground, Khater rammed his car into a police barrier at a side entrance to the Houses of Parliament as two officers desperately dived out of the way.

Prosecutor Alison Morgan QC said Khater, an asylum seeker from Sudan, had wanted to “cause maximum death and injury” but those hurt had miraculously survived.

Khater denied two charges of attempted murder at an Old Bailey trial, claiming the incident was an accident. He was convicted unanimously by a jury this morning.

Salih Khater drove around Parliament Square carried out a 'premeditated attack', the court heard

The Crown Prosecution Service said it was “reasonable to assume he had a terrorist motive”, though detectives did not uncover any extremist material or signs of a reason for the attack.

Mrs Justice McGowan delayed the sentencing hearing until October, saying: “I need to consider two aspects – whether or not there was a terrorist motive, and whether or not he is to be classified as dangerous and presenting a continuous danger to the public.”

The court heard Khater, who lives in Birmingham, had driven to London the night before the attack on August 14 last year, and conducted surveillance drives through Parliament Square.

Police officers cordon off Westminster Bridge, leading to Parliament Square, after Salih Khater rammed his car into barriers at the Houses of Parliament on August 14, 2018 (AFP/Getty Images)

He had also searched for Number 10 Downing Street and Westminster on his phone in the hours before. Khater, a failed accountancy student at the University of Coventry, had become paranoid in the months before the incident, the court heard, and had sent a letter to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to complain about an “event” involving the intelligence services.

Mr Corbyn’s office sent a “vague” reply to the letter due to its confused content, but it emerged after Khater had carried out the attack.

After driving to London, Khater parked up in Soho and waited for the morning rush-hour before heading to Parliament.

Pedestrian Paul Brown told the court Khater’s car “came out of nowhere” and hit him, while cyclists were left trapped under their bikes and lying in the road in agony.

Police recover the silver Ford Fiesta involved (PA)

Khater then made a sharp turn into a slip road, going 32mph and forcing PCs Darren Shotton and Simon Short to dive out of the way.

“Whatever his motives, this was not an accident”, said Ms Morgan. “It was a deliberate attempt to kill and maim as many people as possible.”

When detained by armed police, Khater confirmed he was acting alone but offered no explanation for the attack.

At trial, Khater claimed he had been driving to the Sudanese embassy that morning and was hoping to obtain a passport, and suggested he was also looking for a breakfast spot when he accidentally crashed.

Khater was not found to be in possession of any terrorist propaganda

However, Jenny Hopkins, from the CPS, said the evidence suggested Khater had picked out Westminster as a target due to its iconic status.

“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”, she said.

“His driving was so precise and determined that it was difficult for skilled accident investigators to repeat the manoeuvre he carried out.

“Whatever his motives, this was not an accident.”

Khater was remanded in custody to be assessed by doctors and the probation service, ahead of sentencing on October 7.

He denied but was convicted of two charges of attempted murder.