After a vehicle drove into pedestrians near a mosque in north London, killing at least one person, Prime Minister Theresa May said the attacker had acted alone. The UK will look at increased security for mosques.
Prime Minister Theresa May chaired an emergency Cobra cabinet meeting on Monday, telling reporters afterwards that the alleged perpetrator was a 48-year-old white man and that according to early assessments he had acted alone.
May also said the government was assessing the security of mosques in the UK, adding that there had been “too much tolerance” of extremism and vowing to fight it in the same way the UK had fought racism.
The attack was a “sickening attempt” to destroy the freedom to worship, the prime minister said outside Downing Street. “It was an attack that once again targeted the ordinary and the innocent … this time British Muslims,” she said.
“London is an extraordinary city of extraordinary people,” she added.
Details of the attack as we get them
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu of the Metropolitan police – the senior national coordinator for counterterrorism policing – said it was too early to tell whether the man who died at the scene had been killed in the attack.
Eyewitnesses reported seeing a group of people giving an emergency heart massage to one man before the attack happened.
Eight others were taken to hospital and two were treated at the scene, Basu said, adding that all of the victims were Muslim.
Authorities named the suspect as Darren O., a father of four who was living in Cardiff, Wales. He has been arrested on suspicion of terrorism and murder.
“He has further been arrested for the commission, preparation or instigation of terrorism including murder and attempted murder,” Scotland Yard police headquarters said in a statement.
Interior Minister Amber Rudd said police “immediately” treated the incident as a suspected terrorist attack. Rudd, who is in charge of government law enforcement, called on everyone to remain united after a string of recent Islamist inspired terror attacks in London and Manchester.
“We must all continue to stand together, resolute, against all those who try to divide us and spread hate and fear,” Rudd said.
The chairman of the Finsbury Park Mosque, Mohammed Kozbar, complained that the “mainstream media” had been unwilling to call the attack a terrorist incident for many hours.
The leader of Britain’s opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn – in whose constituency the attack took place – said he was “totally shocked” by the attack. He said in a tweet he has been in touch with mosques, the police and the local council regarding the incident.
As it happened
Police said they were called just after 12:20 a.m. (2320 GMT Sunday) to reports of a collision on Seven Sisters Road, which runs through the Finsbury Park area of north London.
A witness who lives opposite the scene of the incident told the BBC a white van stopped near the Finsbury Park Mosque, as Muslims celebrated Ramadan in the multiethnic area.
“From the window, I started hearing a lot of yelling and screeching, a lot of chaos outside…Everybody was shouting: ‘A van’s hit people, a van’s hit people’,” she said. “I didn’t see the attacker himself, although he seems to have been arrested, but I did see the van.”
One witness, Abdul Rahman, told the BBC he saw the van “deliberately run over about 10 or 15 people.” Rahman said he and another man wrestled the suspect to the ground and held him down for 20 to 30 minutes before police arrived.
“This big van just came and went all over us,” witness Abdulrahman Saleh Alamoudi told BuzzFeed News. “He was screaming… ‘I’m going to kill all Muslims.'”
The UK’s largest Muslim umbrella body, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), said on Twitter that the crash happened outside the Muslim Welfare House, just down the road from Finsbury Park Mosque. “Our prayers are with the victims,” it said.
At least two witnesses told Sky News there were three men in the van, but the police statement seems to contradict that, saying no other suspects had been identified or reported to police.
Harun Khan, the head of the MCB, described the incident as the “most violent manifestation to date” of Islamophobia, and called on authorities to do more “to tackle the growth in hate crime.”
UK on high alert
London is on edge after eight people were killed in a van and knife attack on London Bridge and the Borough Market area earlier this month. In March, a man drove a car into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge and stabbed a police officer to death before being shot dead. In May, the city of Manchester was targeted with a suicide bombing at a pop concert that killed 22 people.
Britain’s terrorist alert has been set at “severe,” meaning an attack is highly likely.
Police said they had deployed extra policing resources “to reassure communities, especially those observing Ramadan.”
A spike in hate crimes has been reported since the attack in south London two weeks ago.
Finsbury Park: hotbed of radical Islam
The Finsbury Park Mosque had been associated with radical Islamist ideology in the past, but its image changed after it was shut down and reopened under new management.
Its former imam, Abu Hamza, was jailed in Britain for inciting violence and racial hatred before being extradited to New York, where he was sentenced to life in prison for terrorism in 2015. That same year, the mosque took part in an open day organized by the MCB to promote a better understanding of Islam following Islamist-inspired attacks in Paris. It has not been associated with extremist views for more than a decade.
cw/jbh/rg (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)