Van attack near London mosque being investigated as terrorism
Police urged Britain to stay calm on Monday as authorities investigated the fourth terrorist attack within three months, this time directed against the Muslim community.
One person died at the scene and 10 more were injured when a man drove a van into worshipers who were gathered near a north London mosque as Ramadan prayers ended shortly after midnight.
All the victims were Muslim. A 48-year-old white man was arrested at the scene, Prime Minister Theresa May said.
A witness who helped to detain the driver at the scene until police arrived said the motorist shouted, "I want to kill Muslims" and “Kill me.”
Locals said an imam implored the crowd outside the Muslim Welfare House in Finsbury Park who were holding the man not to harm him but deliver him over to authorities, which they did.
Police said the counter-terrorism unit was investigating and London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who is Muslim, said extra police were being deployed to reassure communities, especially those observing 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," Khan said. He was referring to three other recent attacks in Britain, all of them claimed by the Islamic State group.
Speaking outside her Downing Street residence, the prime minister also delivered a strongly worded statement saying this was an attack on the values that Britain holds dear.
“Like all terrorism, in whatever form, it shares the same fundamental goal: It seeks to drive us apart and to break the precious bonds of solidarity and citizenship we share in this country,” she said.
May added that it was a “reminder that terrorism, extremism and hatred take many forms” and the government’s determination to tackle this would be robust, regardless of which community it was directed against. The statement was a clear attempt to ensure that Britain’s large Muslim community feels protected and to quell any feelings of double standards.
Overnight, some local residents had been quoted criticizing the authorities for what they believed was a failure to brand this incident terrorism as quickly as they had the other recent events.
May said that it had been labeled a "terrorist incident" within eight minutes and stressed that this attack was being treated just as seriously as previous ones that have been carried out in the name of Islam and largely targeted non-Muslims.
“There has been far too much tolerance of extremism in our country over many years, and that means extremism of any kind — including Islamophobia,” May said.
Tensions are currently high in Britain following the recent attacks.
The first occurred March 22, when a man drove a car over Westminster Bridge, killing four people, and then fatally stabbed a police officer who was guarding the Houses of Parliament before being shot dead.
In May, a suicide bomber detonated his explosive vest at the exit to an Ariana Grande concert at an arena in the northern city of Manchester, killing 22, including many children.
And earlier this month, a trio of men armed with knifes drove their rented van over London Bridge, hitting and killing pedestrians before attacking people with knives inside Borough Market, a popular area full of bars and restaurants. Eight people died and the three assailants were shot dead by police.
Separately Monday, a suspected attacker drove into a police vehicle on the Champs-Elysees shopping district in Paris, and was immediately arrested, the Associated Press reported. No one was reported injured.
The Muslim Council of Britain described the attack near the mosque as a retaliatory hate crime and said there were concerns about rising Islamophobia in Britain that were not being treated with adequate seriousness.
“During the night, ordinary British citizens were set upon while they were going about their lives, completing their night worship,” said Harun Khan, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain. “Muslim communities have been calling for increased action to tackle the growth in hate crime for many years and transformative action must now be taken to tackle not only this incident but the hugely worrying growth in Islamophobia.”
The attack took place near the once-notorious Finsbury Park Mosque. Chairman Mohammed Kozbar said that on Saturday, members of different faiths had met to remember the slain Labor Party member of Parliament Jo Cox, who was stabbed and shot in the days before Britain’s referendum on its membership in the European Union by a supporter of far-right organizations.
Street parties, spearheaded by her widowed husband Brendan, took place around the country over the weekend under the banner of celebrating that Britain has "more in common than that which divides us," which Cox had said during a speech in Parliament.
Kozbar said the gathering in Finsbury Park had taken place at the Muslim Welfare House, not far from where Monday’s attack occurred.
Prime Minister Theresa May chaired a meeting of her emergency COBRA committee Monday morning to assess the situation and Home Secretary Amber Rudd said the government would be making sure that places of worship were adequately protected using a dedicated fund for the purpose.
Police said the man who died had been receiving first aid from the public when he was struck and it was therefore too early to know if he died as a result of the attack.
Witnesses described seeing the large white van mount the sidewalk on Seven Sisters Road shortly after midnight and drive into the group of people who had recently finished prayers during the holy month of Ramadan, when believers fast during daylight hours. Police arrived within 10 minutes, sealing off the entire area and the suspect was taken into custody.
Witnesses described scenes of chaos in the moments after the attack.