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Calling On Help From Public, Investigators Piece Together London Attacker's Past


Turning now to London, where police continue to investigate what might have motivated a 52-year-old British man to go on a killing spree this week and whether he had any accomplices. For the latest on this developing story, we're joined now by NPR's correspondent Eleanor Beardsley, who's in London. Eleanor, thanks so much for joining us.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: You're welcome, Michel.

MARTIN: So what do investigators know right now? What are they telling us?

BEARDSLEY: Well, they're trying to piece together his past. And they're going through thousands of pieces of evidence from the 21 house raids they did. And this is including masses of computer data. They're questioning hundreds of people. Two people are still being detained. Seven were released. And there's also evidence that a message from Khalid Masood's Whatsapp account was emitted right before the attacks. So that's leading investigators to believe there could have been an accomplice. And the police are really reaching out to the public. They put in a hotline number and they're asking anyone who knew him at any time in his life to please be in touch.

MARTIN: Well, can you tell us any more about Khalid Masood?

BEARDSLEY: Yes. Michel, today, you know, the newspapers are really getting into the details of his life. He was born to an unwed teenage mother who raised him until he was around 2 and she married another man. He apparently had a fairly stable upbringing. He had siblings. The pictures show a smiling schoolboy, you know, with a little tie in a British school uniform. He was apparently good at chemistry and athletic, but someone from the time described him as intelligent and sinister. Anyway, he left school at 16, and that's where it seemed to begin to unravel. He became involved in petty crime. He sold drugs. He took drugs.

In 2000, a stabbing incident - he stabbed a man. He was violent with a knife. He went to jail. He got out of jail and he had another incident stabbing someone. He went back to jail in 2003. And this is after 9/11, so investigators say there were a lot of radicalized - you know, suspected Islamist radicals in prison. And they believe this is when he may have been radicalized because they preyed on, you know, young, violent men who are struggling with their identity.

After that, he got married. He has three children from different mothers out there. And the Saudi Arabian government has confirmed that he went twice to teach English there between 2005 and nine. And that's apparently pretty common for converts.

MARTIN: And what about the fact that this is a person who, like a number of people who've committed similar acts in France, was born in Britain? He's not an immigrant. He's not a recent migrant, not a visitor. Is that something that has been part of the conversation there?

BEARDSLEY: Oh, absolutely. Everyone is talking about that. The media's talking about, you know, how does Adrian Russell Elms born in Kent go bad like this? You know, one newspaper says middle-aged thug turned terrorist. So, you know, it's astounding to people here. But actually, I was out talking to people on the street and they're just really tired, they say, of the whole terrorism theme, radicalization. They think it's being just overhyped by the media. And this is what one young woman, a Londoner, Sophie Ashley (ph), told me.

SOPHIE ASHLEY: When you consider that it was homegrown, I think people should sort of take stock, really, and just realize that there's nutters everywhere. The IRA in London, they were blowing things up much more regularly, and we seemed to get through that. And we'll get through this as well.

BEARDSLEY: Michel, she's referring to the Irish Republican Army, the guerilla wing of Irish nationalists. And they set off a lot of bombs in this city for several decades.

MARTIN: That's NPR correspondent Eleanor Beardsley, who is in London. Eleanor, thank you.

BEARDSLEY: You're welcome, Michel.

(SOUNDBITE OF DRAKE SONG, "PASSIONFRUIT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.
Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.