MI5 closed an investigation into Khalid Masood five years before he launched his Westminster attack
MI5 closed an investigation into Khalid Masood five years before he launched his sickening Westminster attack, an inquest has heard.
Masood had first appeared on the fringes of a major MI5 investigation 13 years before he carried out his attack in central London, the inquest into his victims was told.
Masood’s phone number appeared in the contact list of one of the central figures in Operation Crevice, a plot to blow up the Ministry of Sound nightclub and Bluewater shopping centre in Kent using half a ton of ammonium nitrate fertiliser, in April 2004.
He continued to pop up as a link to a man associated with the Crevice plotters before appearing in another investigation six years later, as a potential facilitator for extremists travelling to Pakistan through Saudi Arabia.
But an MI5 witness told the hearing, from behind a green curtain, that the security service had taken the correct decision in closing their investigation into him in 2010 and did so two years later.
The MI5 officer, known only as Witness L, told the inquest that a person ‘subsequently identified’ as Khalid Masood had appeared in the contacts list for Waheed Mahmood, the man considered the spiritual leader of the fertiliser bombers.
Footage issued by the Met Police shown to the inquest of Khalid Masood driving past St Thomas Hospital in London
However Masood was ‘never identified by name or considered as having direct involvement in attack planning’ the witness told the hearing in Court One of the Old Bailey.
He said: ‘We do not believe that Masood had any knowledge or involvement of the Crevice attack plot.
‘At the time of the Crevice attack , and afterwards, we investigated individuals for such knowledge, and we also separately did that with Khalid Masood. So I say that with a great deal of confidence.
‘We could have devoted significant resources to seeking to identify him without any certainty of success, and devoting those resources would not have been proportionate.’
However, Masood continued to appear over the next six years with a series of ‘selectors’ – which turned out to be his phone number and email adress.
The numbers were ‘primarily’ in the investigation of a ‘long−standing associate’ from Crevice as aprt of a ‘spin off’ investigation.’
Witness L said it ‘would have been possible to identify him from some of the selectors. It wouldn’t have been proportionate to do so given that there was no evidence that he was engaged in anything of concern.’
In 2009 a second operation, named as Operation E was looking at a group of individuals, who MI5 believed were seeking to travel to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas in Pakistan, an area which was heavily being used for terrorist training by al-Qaeda.
Khalid Masood (pictured left) murdered five people (including PC Palmer, right) and injured 50 others when he drove his car into pedestrians outside the Houses of Parliament in March 2017
The individuals were exploring the possibility was that they might travel via Saudi Arabia and an individual in there called Khalid Masood could assist them.
A record was opened on him in February 2010, although the information was said to be ‘reasonably vague’ and ‘uncorroborated’.
He was given a ‘holding code’ that meant MI5 believed he ‘posed a threat to national security.’
By March 2010 they were satisfied that the individual who was facilitating travel to the FATA was not Khalid Masood and downgraded him to an individual who ‘may be of interest to national security.’
MI5 obtained his criminal record and asked the prison service for details of his time in jail, although no record was kept of their response.
In December 2010 an investigative review decided he should be downgraded to a target who was ‘not considered to be of national security significance.’
The security service took the ‘correct decision’ in closing their investigation into Masood in 2010, the inquest heard
An internal minute dated 10 January 2011 recorded the meeting where the decision was taken in relation to a number of ‘subjects of interest’ (SOI) investigated under Operation E.
Witness L said: ‘The minute is brief and records the actions arising from the meeting, not the reasoning discussed at the meeting. It states that Masood should be closed as an SOI under Operation E. No reasoning is given.
‘We have reviewed the decision to close Masood with the benefit of hindsight and concluded that the decision was sound.
‘It is not feasible for MI5 to record every discussion held and every decision made during the course of an investigation.’
The case was not formally closed until October of 2012 for ‘administrative’ reasons and in between intelligence was received that he was associating with other subjects of interest.
He was said to have appeared ‘intermittently’ in contact with a number of other subjects of investigation that we were looking at. that that included subjects of interest who were linked to the radcial group organisation Al−Muhajiroun in the Luton and Crawley areas.
But the witness said: ‘I cannot see any evidence that we considered reopening him.’
In 2013 further intelligence was recieved that Masood had expressed contentment that the violent actions such as the World Trade Centre attack on 9/11 attracted people to Islam.
Witness L inissted that even if the case had been reopened there was no intelligence that would have helped prevent the attack.
‘There simply wasn’t enough intelligence for us to work on that would have allowed us to identify his plot and therefore work with the police to frustrate it.’
The inquest continues.