Sunday 26 January 2020

Killer 'wasn't a loner - he was cheeky and always had a smile'

As many as 600,000 civilians remain in the area as Iraqis press on in fight against Isil
Killer: Khalid Masood
Killer: Khalid Masood

Patrick Markey

The Isil-inspired terrorist who murdered four people in Westminster lied to his family that he was flying to Saudi Arabia before disappearing to prepare for the attack.

Adrian Ajao, who used his Muslim name Khalid Masood, kept his movements secret from his family and associates, bolstering the theory he was a "lone wolf" jihadist rather than linked to any terror cell.

All but one of the people arrested following Wednesday's attack have now been released by Scotland Yard.

A 58-year-old man, thought to be a Saudi national, who was arrested in Birmingham in an armed raid on Thursday, remains in custody.

Police are urgently trying to discover where Ajao (52) stayed in Birmingham and who he met there in the days before he hired a Hyundai 4x4, using it as a weapon to mow down pedestrians on Westminster Bridge.

One area being looked at is any possible connections Ajao may have had to Islamist extremists who lived in Luton when he was there. Ajao lived in Luton between 2009 and 2011. At the time Anjem Choudhary, a notorious hate preacher, was highly active in the Bedfordshire town, while in December 2010 Taimur Abdulwahab al-Abdaly travelled from Luton to Stockholm, the Swedish capital, to carry out a suicide bombing in which he succeeded in killing only himself although two innocent bystanders were injured.

The picture that has emerged of Ajao show the killer to be a highly strung man, prone to sudden bursts of violence. He was obsessed with knives and for 20 years, often under the influence of drink and drugs, committed crimes that led to spells in jail.

He converted to Islam in about 2003 during a stint in prison, and at some stage after that came to the attention of MI5 over links to "violent extremism". But he stayed out of trouble and secret services dismissed him as no longer a risk to the public.

It was all a far cry from his well-to-do upbringing in the English Home Counties. Ajao was born on Christmas Day in 1964 to a white mother and a black father. His birth certificate lists only his mother Janet Alison Elms, then (17) who described herself as a "comptometer operator", a mechanical calculator used in accounting. The space for the father's name has been left blank and Ajao is listed at birth as Adrian Russell Elms.

But by the time he went to school in Tunbridge Wells in Kent he was going by the name Adrian Ajao, his father's name. Mr and Mrs Ajao now live on a farm in Wales.

Ajao was the eldest of three brothers. Despite being bright enough, he failed his 11-plus and went to Huntleys Secondary School for Boys where photographs from the time show a broadly smiling 15-year-old in the football team line-up.

Friends from the time remember him as a "bloody good footballer" and a "popular kid" with a "big personality". He had his own band, which he named after himself, called Alternative Ad (short for Adrian), played drums and sang.

"He wasn't a loner. He was cheeky and always had a smile on his face," said one former schoolfriend. But Ajao, as he hit his late teens, began drinking and taking drugs.

"Towards the end he got a bit out of touch," said the friend. "He got into drug dealing. I understand he owed people money in Tunbridge Wells and disappeared."

One report yesterday suggested that despite being one of the few mixed-race children in Tunbridge Wells at the time, Ajao even flirted with the far Right. It is claimed he was the only black member of the Kent National Front, meeting at a pub that was later turned into a mosque.

At the age of 18, Ajao was convicted for the first time for an offence of criminal damage. Police said his last conviction was in 2003.

He left school and began working in Woolworths. He moved from job to job after that as a sales rep and running a TV installation business.

In the early 1990s he met Jane Harvey (48), a businesswoman who ran the family chemical cleaning firm, with whom he would have two daughters. Ajao quickly moved into her £700,000 home in Northiam, a village close to Rye in East Sussex.

An old friend from school said Ajao went off the rails after he was slashed in the face in a pub fight. After that, Ajao started carrying knives. He would get into fights regularly, often accusing his intended victims of racism before launching surprise attacks. He would be jailed twice for slashing people with knives.

Despite settling in Northiam, he conducted a reign of terror. Lee Lawrence (47), a friend from the village, has told how he harboured a "blood lust" and had told him: "I dream about blood. I dream about killing someone."

In Northiam, Ajao slashed the tyres of the cars of the women's netball team after his partner was left out of the team - because the other women did not want Ajao turning up to matches.

On another occasion, in a chilling echo of events 20 years later, he tried to run a neighbour down in his car by mounting the pavement.

Nigel Gill, who runs a local store, said: "This woman was just sat in the pub and Adrian walked over to her and asked if she wanted a drink. She said no and he got right up close in her face and said: 'Why what's wrong with me. Is it because I am black?' and then he spat in her face and headbutted her.

"He was vicious. He was a bully. In the row over the netball team, he went out with his car and threatened a local woman who was walking along by almost running her over on the pavement. He mounted the kerb. He was giving her a warning."

Ajao converted to Islam after serving a jail sentence for slashing a local pub landlord across the face. He was thrown out the family home and moved to a bedsit in Eastbourne, adopting the name Khalid Masood.

In 2004, Ajao married but according to friends, his wife fled in fear of her life. "She was scared of him. He was very violent towards her, controlling in every aspect of her life - what she wore, where she went, everything."

A year after getting married, Ajao moved to Saudi Arabia for the first time, teaching English as a foreign language. Back in the UK, he moved between Luton, east London and Birmingham, setting up a tutoring business for Arab students called IQRA.

He had seemingly settled down and perhaps it's not surprising that MI5 had stopped taking an interest in him.

But at the age of 52 - some 30 years older than the typical jihadi terrorist - something inside Ajao snapped.

Just as he would "boil over" and launch premeditated attacks in local pubs, he would do so again on a much larger, more terrifying scale last Wednesday afternoon on Westminster Bridge.


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