The British authorities have now identified the terrorist who carried out the attack on the British Parliament as British born Khalid Masood.
This comes shortly after ISIS has claimed Masood as one of its “soldiers”, and after reports carried by the BBC of a wave of arrests of various unidentified people presumably suspected of having some connection to Masood.
Masood is said to have been 52 years old, with previous convictions for a string of violent offences, including grievous bodily harm and assault. His first conviction was in November 1983 for criminal damage and his last was in December 2003 for possession of a knife. He apparently used a number of aliases and had most recently been living in the West Midlands. His name suggests that his family originated from somewhere in the Indian subcontinent.
Apart from Masood’s age, which at 52 is old for a terrorist, this is a fairly typical background for a Europe based Jihadi terrorist. Many such terrorists have been found to have had criminal backgrounds, with such people turning to violent Jihadism both in order to achieve some form of religious redemption for their criminal past, and in order to provide some focus and rationalisation for their inclination towards violence.
Masood’s 52 years means that he has lived through the whole period of Western involvement in the affairs of Central Asia and the Middle East, from the Western backed Jihadist war against the Soviet backed government in Afghanistan in the 1980s, to the West’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001, to the West’s war against Libya in 2011, and to the West’s support for the Jihadist war against President Assad’s government in Syria. As a Jihadist Masood was probably also aware of the West’s role in the Saudi led war in Yemen, and of course he would have been fully aware of the West’s increasingly uncritical support for the actions of the Israeli government in the Palestinian territories.
This in no way justifies or excuses Masood’s murderous actions or means that responsibility for those actions is transferred away from him. What it does mean is that a violent, unbalanced and angry man, such as Masood obviously was, would have had no difficulty finding reasons to rationalise his turn towards terrorist violence.
Britain’s uneasy relationship with the Jihadi networks established in Britain during the Afghan war of the 1980s – with the British authorities simultaneously fighting these networks and supporting their war against the Syrian government – together with Britain’s tolerance of the spread of Wahhabist doctrines financed by Saudi Arabia in British mosques, would also have meant that Masood would have experienced no difficulty hearing the radical Jihadist message to which he proved in the end receptive.