Terror suspect’s friends say life as failed student depressed him

‘Something was troubling him, he definitely wasn’t himself’: Friends of Sudanese immigrant who unleashed terror on Westminster say his life smoking shisha as a failed student had made him depressed

  • Salih Khater veered off road into cyclists at Parliament Square Tuesday morning
  • His friends, from Birmingham, said his behaviour has changed in recent weeks
  • He was described as a ‘quiet loner’ with a love of football and Celine Dion’s music

Salih Khater (pictured) was described as a ‘quiet loner’ and a recognisable face to an inner city suburb of Birmingham

Dressed in an Aston Villa shirt, Salih Khater would sit with friends and enjoy watching the football in his adopted home city.

A failed student, he loved smoking a hookah pipe or sipping coffee at an internet cafe, where he spent much of his time browsing the web alone.

But those in Birmingham’s tight-knit Sudanese community, where the Westminster terror suspect was a recognisable face, say there was a change in behaviour in recent weeks.

Khater, 29, was described as a quiet loner in Sparkbrook, an inner-city neighbourhood that has become synonymous with terrorism investigations over the past 15 years.

He loved English football and would sometimes watch televised games with Sudanese friends. His Facebook profile – which was pulled down yesterday – showed that he was a fan of the French-Canadian singer Celine Dion and the US rapper Eminem, as well as Sudanese music.

One associate from the cafe, Abrha Tomas, 35, said: ‘He’s a good person. I’ve known him for about six or seven years. We played pool together. He had no leanings towards extremism.

‘He liked watching football here at the cafe. I don’t know if he had a girlfriend. He was quite quiet.’

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Another member of the Sparkbrook Sudanese community said Khater was usually friendly, but had become more withdrawn over the last few months.

‘I don’t know whether he was ill, or whether something was troubling him, but he was definitely not himself,’ the man added.

A shopkeeper living close to the flat where Khater lived above the Bunna Internet Café until four months ago added: ‘Recently, Salih was seen sitting on his own on some open land nearby. A friend went up to ask if he was OK. Salih replied that he wasn’t too good, that he was feeling depressed.’

Mr Khater lived a life of smoking shisha or sipping coffee at his favourite internet cafe where he spent much of his time (pictured, his home in Sparkbrook, Birmingham)

An associate of Mr Khater (pictured) from the cafe described him as a ‘good person’ who he has known for ‘six or seven years’

The flat is only seven doors away from a drug programme, responsible for implementing the Government’s counter-extremism Prevent strategy. There is nothing to suggest that Khater was known to the Prevent programme.

Police searched the bedsit above the café on Tuesday afternoon. Last night, terror investigators returned to remove content from PCs in the internet café below.

After leaving the bedsit, Khater moved to a tenth-floor flat in a block overlooking Birmingham Central Mosque in Highgate, where it is believed the suspect’s younger brother lives. But Bunna owner Mohammed Ismail said Khater returned to the café almost daily to use the computers. He was last there on Monday, hours before driving to London.

On Facebook, he called himself a shop manager, although some in Sparkbrook yesterday said they believed he had been working as a security guard.

He wanted to be a pharmacist, and studied a diploma in science at South & City College in Birmingham between 2014 and 2017. But a student said he failed part of his course because his English was poor.

The college said Khater took an ESOL qualification to help non-native English speakers gain fluency between 2010 and 2011. 

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