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British police question parliament attack suspect

Daniel Leal-Olivas, AFP | Police officers work around a silver Ford Fiesta car that was driven into a barrier in central London on August 14, 2018.

A British man accused of a terror attack after driving into a barrier protecting the UK's Houses of Parliament faces an investigation for attempted murder, police said Wednesday.

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Three people were injured when the 29-year-old drove over a pavement and into cyclists before crashing into the barrier on Tuesday morning.

Police said the man, a British national originally from Sudan, was initially arrested on suspicion of terrorism offences but revealed he had been "further arrested for attempted murder".

Two of the injured victims -- a man and a woman -- were taken to hospital but have now been discharged. The third was treated at the scene.

The incident had disturbing parallels with an attack last year, when a man drove his car into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge before crashing outside parliament and running inside.

Khalid Masood fatally stabbed a police officer guarding parliament -- one of five people killed that day -- before being himself shot dead.

The man involved in Tuesday's incident was believed to be from Birmingham, according to his local MP -- the same English city where Masood also lived.

Police searched two addresses in Birmingham on Tuesday and were at a third address on Wednesday. Another location in nearby Nottingham was also searched.

Son of Sudanese farmers

Top police counter-terrorism officer Neil Basu said on Tuesday that the suspect was not believed to be known to intelligence agencies, but the British daily, The Times reported he was known to police.

The paper reported that the suspect in Tuesday’s attack is a shop manager in Birmingham and had studied at Sudan University of Science and Technology, citing his Facebook page.

A childhood friend told The Times the suspect was the son of sorghum farmers, and had moved to Britain about five years ago in order to earn money to help his family. "He is not a terrorist. I have known him since childhood. He is a good man," said the friend.

A spokesman for Coventry University in central England confirmed that the suspect – who has been named by the British press -- began studying accountancy there in September, but dropped out in May.

According to The Daily Mail, friends of the man said his father and brother had recently died within months of each other.

It added that he had shared music with his friends on Facebook, including Céline Dion, Eminem and Rihanna, but had not posted much for several years.

One of the places police have visited was an internet cafe in Birmingham that the suspect is said to have regularly visited.

Local resident Ahmed Abdi, who is originally from Somalia, told reporters he was "shocked" to see the suspect’s picture in the news.

"He was around here almost every day and I was here yesterday when the police turned up," he said. "He was very, very quiet and he never spoke to anybody."

Banning vehicles

Police believe the car involved in the attack, a silver Ford Fiesta, travelled from Birmingham to London on Monday night, arriving just after midnight.

It drove around the Tottenham Court Road area -- near Oxford Street -- from around 1:25am (0025 GMT) before heading to the area around parliament around 6:00am (0500 GMT).

The alleged attack took place around 7:30am local time.

The car crashed into a security barrier, one of many erected on key British sites in the wake of the September 11 attacks in the US in 2001,  and reinforced in recent years.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said he backed the idea of banning vehicles from some areas around parliament.

But he warned any changes must not lose "the wonderful thing about our democracy which is people having access to parliamentarians, people being able to lobby Parliament, visitors being able to come and visit".

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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