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UK terror suspect arrested with bag full of knives was part of aid convoy to Gaza during Israeli blockade

A man (L) is detained by police officers near Downing Street, on Whitehall on April 27, 2017 in London, England.

A terror suspect arrested yards from Downing Street with a knapsack full of knives took part in a controversial aid convoy to Gaza, it has emerged. Khalid Mohammed Omar Ali, 27, was one of seven Britons on board a ship trying to deliver supplies to Palestinians during the Israeli blockade in 2010.

Fellow workers described him as a “quiet and peaceful” man who was always smiling and was driven to help others. But his experiences may have left him disturbed and possibly suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, one former associate said.

Ali, who was born overseas but grew up in Tottenham, north London, was detained by armed officers in Westminster on Thursday afternoon. Police had been watching him for some time after receiving a tip-off from his family, who had become concerned about his erratic behaviour.

A man is detained by police officers near Downing Street, on Whitehall on April 27, 2017 in London, England. Multiple knives were seen at the scene close to Parliament Square and are being investigated.

John Phillips/Getty Images

Seven years ago, he was among volunteers from the Road to Hope charity, who attempted to take food, clothing and other goods to Palestinians aboard a Maltese-registered ship.

The mission was launched just months after Israeli commandos had stormed a flotilla of ships trying to break the naval blockade of Gaza, killing nine activists. Ali was one of 10 aid workers who set off from Libya for Gaza.

In a video from the convoy, Ali can be seen sitting in the front of a van with a Palestinian banner tied around his head.

Speaking excitedly about his trip, he says: “We are all getting together now, alhamdulillah [praise Allah], the vans are all done, energy is here, the sunshine is here, alhamdulillah…

“You are going to see in action – the youth – doing our thing, all day long. We did it in Tottenham, we are going to do it in Gaza; taking it to another level. One love.”

But the group became stranded in the Mediterranean following a row with the ship’s owners over money. The captain headed for Greece, where the group were reportedly held against their will. The volunteers eventually returned to the UK after the stand-off was settled.

One of the group, who asked not to be named, remembered Ali as a happy and friendly person, who showed no signs of radical beliefs.

He said: “Khalid was a happy, smiley person who was very easy-going. He had a genuine desire to help people. But perhaps his experiences took their toll on him and he has suffered some sort of post-traumatic stress disorder.”

Ali’s arrest came just five weeks – and a 100 yards away – from the spot where Khalid Masood was shot dead after killing five people.

Although Ali had been under surveillance, he had been able to travel into central London by Tube.

A senior policing source said: “He was being watched very closely. We understand he had exited the Tube at St James’s Park station before walking in the direction of Whitehall.

“At some stage an alert went out to all the teams in the area and the order was made to pick him up.”

It is not clear whether police knew at that stage he was carrying weapons.