London terrorist used messaging app WhatsApp minutes before attack

Grace Vegesana wasn't shy about deploying newsjacker via Whatsapp. Photo: Getty.

Grace Vegesana wasn't shy about deploying newsjacker via Whatsapp. Photo: Getty. Photo: Getty

Counter-terrorism investigators in the UK suspect a WhatsApp message sent or received by Khalid Masood mere minutes before the London attack could be key to uncovering his motives and accomplices.

The 52-year-old used the encrypted, third party message service three minutes before ploughing into pedestrians crossing Westminster Bridge, killing four people and injuring dozens on Wednesday.

Police suspect Mr Masood’s interactions on the app may indicate he did not act alone,The Times UK reported.

Investigators’ theories include that he was saying goodbye to associates, receiving final encouragement or seeking religious authority before striking.

However, Cybercrime expert Nigel Phair at the Centre for Internet Safety at the University of Canberra said it would be “almost impossible” for investigators to intercept the content of the message.

The third-party message application uses end-to-end encryption, meaning only senders and receivers can access messages.

It is popular among activists, dissidents and diplomats. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his most senior cabinet ministers use the app.

Unlike a text message or phone call sent through a phone carrier, Mr Phair said national security agencies would need a different approach to obtain the information from WhatsApp, such as software that records key strokes.

“The platform is secure, there’s no way through the platform to know what the message is,” he said.

“It’s almost impossible and would require a high level of technical ability by national security agencies. Agencies are going to need a different approach to get that message.”

encryption whatsapp

WhatsApp uses end-to-end encryption, meaning only the sender and recipient can view the messages.

Mr Masood, whose birth name was Adrian Russell Ajao, was active on the app at 2.37pm, three minutes before he ploughed through pedestrians crossing Westminster Bridge and crashed into the gate outside Parliament House on Wednesday.

He then stabbed police officer Keith Palmer before he was shot down and killed by police.

Mr Masood, who was also known as Adrian Elms, described his profession as a teacher, but never worked as a qualified teacher in English state schools, according to the BBC.

Born in the county of Kent and a resident of the West Midlands in central England, Mr Masood was known to police and the MI5 by several aliases and had a raft of previous convictions dating from 1983 to 2003.

Those included grievous bodily harm, weapons possessions and public order offences.

The manager of the hotel where Mr Masood stayed the night before he carried out the attack said he appeared “normal”.

“He was very friendly, laughing and joking, telling us stories about where he lived,” Sabeur Toumi, manager of the Preston Park Hotel in Brighton, told the Daily Mail.

On Friday, police confirmed a 75-year-old man, Leslie Rhodes, had died, becoming the fourth victim of the attack, along with American Kurt Cochran, 54, Police Constable Keith Palmer, 48, and Aysha Frade, 43.

In a briefing outside Scotland Yard, Metropolitan Police counter-terrorism chief Mark Rowley said police were investigating whether Mr Masood “acted totally alone inspired by terrorist propaganda, or if others have encouraged, supported or directed him”.

The Islamic State also claimed responsibility for the attack.

– with AAP

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