Van strikes crowd near London mosques in 'terrorist attack'
LONDON - A van plowed into a group of Muslim worshipers after prayers at a pair of north London mosques early Monday, leaving one person dead and injuring 10 others in what is being called a “terrorist attack.”
Witnesses said the driver of the vehicle was heard shouting that he wanted to kill Muslims.
“This is being treated as a terrorist attack,” said Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu told reporters. He added that the driver of the van was arrested on suspicion of murder.
The latest terrorist attack in London - the third in three months - was “every bit as sickening” as those that have come before, said British Prime Minister Theresa May. She hailed the “bravery” of locals for detaining the driver at the scene in the north London district of Finsbury Park.
“Hatred and evil of this kind will never succeed,” she said.
The attack unfolded as Muslims finished nighttime prayers during the holy month of Ramadan. The incident occurred near two mosques: the Finsbury Park Mosque and the Muslim Welfare House.
Abdulrahman Aidroos and his friends were attending to an elderly man who had collapsed on the ground when suddenly he saw a man in a van driving “straight into us.”
The driver of the van jumped out of the vehicle and tried to run, Aidroos said.
“I tackled him on the floor until the police came,” he told the BBC. “When he was running, he said, ‘I want to kill more people, I want to kill more Muslims,’” he said.
“When I got him on the ground, I said, ‘Why are you doing this?’ He said, ‘I want to kill more Muslims.’”
Hussain Ali, 28, told the Press Association, a British news agency, that the leader of the mosque told the crowd “do not touch him” as they waited for the police to arrive.
Police said that there were “a number of casualties” and that one person was arrested after a van struck a crowd of pedestrians in London.
A witness, who gave his name as Adil Rana, said the attacker tried to taunt onlookers as he was arrested.
“He said, ‘I’d do it again,’” Rana told The Washington Post. “It was a premeditated attack. He picked this area well and he knows Finsbury Park is predominantly a Muslim area.”
The incident early Monday follows two recent terrorist attacks in London in which vehicles have been used as weapons, both on bridges over the Thames River.
Eight people were killed last month when attackers used a van to plow into pedestrians on London Bridge, then got out to stab restaurant patrons with knives at the adjacent Borough Market. In March, a lone attacker drove his car into people on Westminster Bridge, then fatally stabbed a police officer at the gates of Parliament.
In both cases, the attackers were shot dead by security forces.
On Monday, police said that all of the victims outside the mosque were from the Muslim community, but it was “too early to tell” if the man who died at the scene did so as a result of the attack. The man who died was receiving first aid before the incident, they said.
In a statement, police said eight people were hospitalized while two others were treated at the scene.
Police said they had deployed extra officers “to reassure communities, especially those observing Ramadan.”
London Mayor Sadiq Khan, the city’s first Muslim mayor, called the incident a “horrific terrorist attack,” which was “clearly a deliberate attack on innocent Londoners, many of whom were finishing prayers during the holy month of Ramadan.”
“While this appears to be an attack on a particular community, like the terrible attacks in Manchester, Westminster and London Bridge it is also an assault on all our shared values of tolerance, freedom and respect,” he said in a statement.
Over the weekend, the Muslim Welfare House hosted an event in memory of Jo Cox, a lawmaker who was murdered last year by a right-wing extremist. Tens of thousands of events were held up and down the country in celebration of the late lawmaker, who once said “we have far more in common than that which divides us.”
Video taken in the immediate aftermath of the incident and posted on social media showed people screaming as bystanders performed chest compressions on one of the injured. Nearby, a man held a bloody cloth to his head.
Hours after the incident, as dawn broke, a large and angry crowd remained in the streets. Many called the incident a terrorist attack, saying the driver had deliberately targeted Muslims.
Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party and the local member of parliament for the area said on Twitter he was “totally shocked.”
The Finsbury Park Mosque - located in a vibrant, multicultural area of north London - was once closely associated with extremism. But in the past decade, the mosque has transformed its image, with its leadership outspoken in advocating interfaith harmony.
During the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign - amid the furor of candidate Donald Trump’s proposed Muslim ban - Corbyn invited Trump to visit the mosque to show him how “multicultural, multifaith” Britain works.
Saadiq Mizou, a 35-year-old chef originally from Belgium, said he’d been outside the scene since 2 a.m. For him, the attack had made him reconsider whether he could go to the mosques in Finsbury Park again.
“Twenty days in row I’ve been here,” he explained. “Nothing happened. It’s all going good. People are eating, doing charity, doing things like helping people, praying and then going home. That’s it. And now that’s happening? We’re not safe. If I stay here, people could come and attack me with a car.
“It’s better to be safe and stay at home,” Mizou said. “Simple.”