New research offers unique insight into the profile of terror attacker Khalid Masood


Criminologists at Birmingham City University have explored how Westminster terror attacker Khalid Masood may have been radicalised in prison and evaded detection by repeatedly reinventing himself using shifting identities.

Masood killed four people on Westminster Bridge on 22 March 2017, before fatally stabbing a police officer outside the Houses of Parliament. He was then shot by an armed police officer and died at the scene.


Birmingham City University

The inquest into Masood’s death has been taking place this week, with it being announced today that Masood was lawfully killed.

The research by Birmingham City University criminologists Professor Imran Awan, Dr Mohammed Rahman and Sophie Grace Rowe also considers Masood’s history of violent practice as a means to assert his ‘manliness’ and regain power that may have been lacking elsewhere in his life.

The researchers carried out a series of ‘criminological autopsy’ exercises at the scene of the crimes, before conducting interviews with a resident who lived with Masood, referred to as ‘Mikhail’ for the purpose of research anonymity.

“Mikhail contacted us as he felt that as criminologists we would benefit from his primary insights”, said Professor Awan.

“We established the superficial relationship that Mikhail had with Masood and the things they would talk about in communal spaces.

While Masood never spoke to Mikhail about his previous criminal convictions, he was quick to reference the crimes of others, namely British politicians.

“…he started name calling politicians and all the bad things that they have done”, said Mikhail.

“…he mentioned key political figures in the UK and said that one of the MP’s from a case he investigated committed adultery and child abuse.”

By the age of 18 Masood received his first conviction for criminal damage and in 2000 was charged with unlawful wounding and possession of an unlawful weapon, after slashing a man’s face at a pub in Northiam, which he later claimed was triggered by racism.

Masood pled guilty and received a two-year prison sentence, during which time it’s believed he converted to Islam. He returned to prison in 2003 for six months, following another knife attack.

“There’s a clear pattern of escalating violence in Masood’s behaviour”, said Dr Rahman.

“It’s also key to point out that there are noticeable periods where Masood appears to distance himself from his offending background in order to construct a new identity, particularly following his first sentence and second stint in prison."

Sophie Grace Rowe added: “Throughout his life, Masood repeatedly reinvented himself using shifting identities, adopting a host of different names, including: Adrian Russell Elms; Adrian Ajao; Khalid Choudry; and Khalid Masood. 

“He kept his past so secret that Mikhail had no idea that he had been living with a man who had previously spent time inside prison.”

The researchers suggest that Masood’s violent tendencies could be best explained through his desire to regain power in life.

“He appeared to be heavily invested in the construction of his masculinity”, said Rowe.

“It’s widely reported that he used bodybuilding steroids and often became embroiled in fights after drinking.”

Observations by Mikhail support the idea of Masood having an obsession with a macho image and provide evidence to suggest that Masood was preparing physically for the Westminster attack.

“…I always knew that he was obsessed with bodybuilding”, said Mikhail.

“In fact his dumbbells are still in the property. His bicep was bigger than my leg!”

The researchers also suggest that Masood’s time in prison may have led to him committing the Westminster terror attack.

“Little attention has been paid to Masood’s time in prison,” added Professor Awan.

“We believe he may have been influenced by a culture of violent activities and hoped to re-enact those feelings and perceptions of hate and violence, which can often be linked to terrorist acts.”

“There is evidence that within prison he wanted to kill someone."

“Our report argues that Masood went through a radicalisation process contributing to blame attribution, the dehumanising of his victims and loss of moral restraints. This type of behaviour therefore provided him with a sense of commitment to a cause which he viewed as justifiable.”

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