A van ploughed into a crowd of Muslims near a London mosque early on Monday, leaving one person dead and injuring 10 others in the second terror attack this month in the British capital.
Prime minister Theresa May condemned the ‘sickening’ incident, saying Britain’s determination to fight ‘terrorism, extremism and hatred... must be the same, whoever is responsible’. Prime minister vowed to fight terrorism in all its forms.
The 48-year-old driver of the van, a white man who police believe acted alone, was detained by people at the scene before being arrested on suspicion of attempted murder.
The Finsbury Park Mosque in north London said the van ‘deliberately mowed down Muslim men and women leaving late evening prayers’ at the mosque and the nearby Muslim Welfare House shortly after midnight.
Others linked the attack to an increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes, particularly since the London Bridge rampage on June 3 that left eight people dead, which was claimed by the Islamic State group.
‘This was an attack on London and all Londoners and we should all stand together against extremists whatever their cause,’ said Neil Basu, senior counter-terrorism officer for the Metropolitan Police.
He added that it had ‘all the hallmarks’ of a terrorist attack.
It unfolded as a man was receiving first aid from members of the public in an unrelated incident. The man later died, though it is not yet clear whether his death was linked to the attack, Basu said.
Ten people were hurt, all of them Muslims, with eight of them requiring hospital treatment. Two of them were in a very serious condition, police said.
A witness, Abdiqadir Warra, said that the van ‘drove at people’ and that some of the victims were carried for several metres along the road.
‘He was shouting: ‘All Muslims, I want to kill all Muslims’, another witness, Khalid Amin, told BBC television.
Basu praised locals for detaining the man, saying that their ‘restraint in the circumstances was commendable’.
The use of a vehicle to mow down pedestrians drew horrifying parallels with the June 3 attack, when three men drove a van into pedestrians before embarking on a stabbing spree, and with another car and knife rampage in Westminster in March.
This time, however, the attacker appeared to have deliberately targeted at Muslims.
‘Over the past weeks and months, Muslims have endured many incidents of Islamophobia and this is the most violent manifestation to date,’ said Harun Khan, head of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), an umbrella body.
After the London Bridge attack, the mayor’s office reported a 40 per cent increase in racist incidents in the city and a fivefold increase in the number of anti-Muslim incidents.
Mohammed Kozbar, chairman of the Finsbury Park Mosque, described it as ‘cowardly’.
‘Our community is in shock,’ he said, urging people attending prayers to remain vigilant.
This message was echoed by police, who said extra police had been deployed to reassure Muslim communities in London and security outside mosques would be reviewed.
London mayor Sadiq Khan said it was a ‘horrific terrorist attack’ aimed at ‘innocent Londoners, many of whom were finishing prayers during the holy month of Ramadan’.
It was the third major incident to hit the capital in the past few weeks,
after the London Bridge attack and last week’s devastating fire in the Grenfell Tower block, in which 79 people are thought to have died.
‘This is an extraordinary city of extraordinary people,’ May said in a statement outside Downing Street, after chairing an emergency government meeting on the attack.
‘It is home to a multitude of communities that together make London one of the greatest cities on earth. Diverse, welcoming, vibrant, compassionate, confident and determined never to give in to hate.’
The Finsbury Park Mosque was once a notorious hub for radical Islamists but has changed markedly in recent years under new management.
Its former imam, Abu Hamza, was jailed for life in New York on terrorism charges in 2015.
Despite the change in leadership and the focus on bolstering inter-faith relations, the mosque reported that it had received a string of threatening emails and letters in the wake of the terror attacks in Paris.
Some locals came onto the street in support of the mosque on Monday, holding up signs saying ‘We love our mixed community’ and ‘Leave our Muslim neighbours alone’.
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