Sources say the terrorist, a son of Pakistani immigrants.
Khuram Shazad Butt, one of the three jihadi attackers who killed seven people in London on Saturday, was a supporter of the banned Islamist group al-Muhajiroun who only last month was spotted urging people in east London not to participate in the general election.
The 27-year-old was described by locals in his neighbourhood of Barking, east London, as the son of parents from Jhelum, a town in Pakistan’s Punjab province. Butt, who was born in Pakistan but brought up in Britain, was a keen supporter of Arsenal football club, whose shirt he wore during the attack, and spoke with a London accent.
The Metropolitan police admitted on Monday that he was known to the police and MI5 and they had opened an investigation into him in 2015. A few months later detectives received a call from a concerned member of the public on the anti-terrorism hotline with information about his extremism. But inquiries established no intelligence or evidence to suggest any terrorist activity or that an attack was being planned, according to assistant commissioner Mark Rowley, the UK’s top counter-terrorism officer. Butt’s case was moved into the “lower echelons” of the 500 most active counter-terrorism investigations.
“I have seen nothing yet that a poor decision was made,” Rowley said.
Butt went by the name Abu Zaitun and was known widely as Abs by friends at the gymnasium where he trained in weightlifting and at the two mosques where he worshipped. He had two young children, a son aged about three and a recently born baby, with a woman described locally as his wife. He reportedly had jobs on the London transport network and in a fast food restaurant and lived a couple of miles from his mother in Plaistow.
But in recent years his fundamentalist approach to religion repeatedly caused concern among people who knew him. He associated with al-Muhajiroun, the banned extremist group whose leader Anjem Choudary has been linked to the recruitment of more than 100 British terrorism suspects.
Community sources in east London active in working against al-Muhajiroun and the groups that succeeded it, said Butt was asked not to enter the East London mosque over concerns about his activities. One source at the mosque, on Whitechapel Road, said that after the 2017 general election was called he was seen handing out flyers telling Muslims they should not vote or participate in the democratic process. In 2015 he was asked not to enter the mosque having tried to urge worshippers inside the building not to vote.
He was also forcibly ejected from a Barking mosque, Jabir bin Zayd, after he repeatedly interrupted the imam shouting “only God is in charge” and refusing to stop. It is believed he was also urging people not to vote at that mosque ahead of the 2015 poll.
It was around this time that the police opened their investigation into Butt.
He also featured in a Channel 4 documentary about British jihadis broadcast last year, which showed he was involved in an altercation with police after a black flag was unfurled in Regent’s Park in London. The programme also featured Siddhartha Dhar, who changed his named to Abu Rumaysah after converting to Islam and later travelled to Syria to join Islamic State. Dhar, 33, fled Britain in 2014 after being arrested on suspicion of encouraging terrorism and being a member of al-Muhajiroun.
Dhar is suspected of becoming a masked public “executioner” for Isis in Syria, being filmed presiding over a number of murders following the death of fellow Briton Mohammed Emwazi, the man dubbed Jihadi John.
Also in the group filmed by Channel 4 was the extremist preacher Abu Haleema. Abu Haleema had contact with a teenage jihadi who wanted to carry out a beheading on Anzac Day in Australia. Butt also appeared alongside Dhar in footage at a demonstration outside Paddington police station during which Choudary’s acolytes clashed with the far-right group Britain First.
To some neighbours in Barking, such as Ken Chigbo, 26, Butt seemed “a sociable, friendly guy”. Butt had invited Chigbo to a barbecue recently. It was “friendly, there was a good vibe”, Chigbo recalled. He also said he occasionally played football or table tennis with Butt outside the flats.
Another neighbour, Regina Khan, said Butt spent a lot of time with boys and teenagers in the area. “He was always hanging out with the kids and teenagers – just the boys, never the girls – talking with them and playing football. That always worries me a bit to be honest.”
Khan was not invited to the barbecue and said it was a “no woman” affair. “He invited the boys and teenagers and a few of the men but not the women,” she said.
But another neighbour who who lived in the same Elizabeth Fry apartments building in Barking as Butt, reported him to the police in 2015 after she feared he was trying to radicalise children in a local park.
Erica Gasparri, a mother of three who lives in the same complex, said she went to the park to confront him after her son came home and said: “Mummy, I want to be a Muslim.”
She rushed to the park and said that he was there with two people she had not seen before in the tight-knit community. She described the other two as a Pakistani man and a black man.
“He said, ‘I’m ready to do whatever I need to do in the name of Allah. I am ready in the name of Allah to do what needs to be done including killing my own mother,’” Gasparri said. “I don’t know how fast I went from the park to Barking police. I took four photographs of him and gave them to the police. They rang Scotland Yard when I was there and said the information had been passed on to Scotland Yard. They were very concerned.
“They told me to delete the photos for my own safety which I did but then I heard nothing. That was two years ago. No one came to me. If they did, this could have been prevented and lives could have been saved,” she said.
A friend of the attacker told the BBC’s Asian Network on Sunday that he also raised the alarm because Butt used to watch clips of the American hate preacher Ahmad Musa Jibril.
“I phoned the anti-terror hotline,” the unnamed man said. “I spoke to the gentleman. I told him about our conversation and why I think he was radicalised.”
Butt did not like to socialise with women and his wife normally wore a full-face veil, neighbours said.
They also reported an increase in comings and goings of men in traditional religious robes and headgear at Butt’s home in recent months.
A neighbour of one of the suspected attackers said he saw the rental van used in the attack outside the Elizabeth Fry block on Friday – and again on Saturday afternoon.
“I saw him with the van on Friday,” said Michael Mimbo, 25, who lived in a neighbouring block to the attacker’s flat and had known him for three years. “He had parked it right outside the flats and it was blocking the road. Cars couldn’t get past and there was a bit of aggro.”
Mimbo said several neighbours had seen it being driven at speed the wrong way up a one-way street outside the flats on Saturday afternoon.
“There are lots of kids play round here so people were pretty cross,” he said.
It was a change of behaviour from Butt, a man who had previously seemed calm.
“On FA Cup final day we were both excited and talking about it,” said Mimbo. “I remember I said I wanted Wenger out and he said he wanted him to remain. And he was joyous when Arsenal won ... he was a calm and kind guy. It’s unbelievable what’s happened.”
What Butt did next is now the subject of a major counter-terrorism investigation.