One dead as van rams Muslims near London mosque
London (AFP) – A van ploughed into a crowd of Muslims near a London mosque early on Monday, leaving one person dead and injuring 10 others in what was being treated as the latest terrorist attack to hit Britain.
The 48-year-old driver of the van, who police believe acted alone, was detained by people at the scene and then 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 if 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, told AFP 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.
Amateur video footage seen by AFP showed at least three people laying on the ground, including one who was receiving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
Basu praised the local community’s actions, adding that their “restraint in the circumstances was commendable”.
Prime Minister Theresa May said that her thoughts were with the victims and their families, and that she would chair a Cobra emergency cabinet meeting this morning.
– Prayers on the pavement –
The use of a vehicle to mow down pedestrians drew horrifying parallels with the London Bridge attack, when three men drove a van into pedestrians before embarking on a stabbing spree, as well as with another car and knife rampage in Westminster in March.
This time, however, the attacker appears to have deliberately targed 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.
Mohammed Kozbar, chairman of the Finsbury Park mosque, described it as a “cowardly attack which is no different from the attacks in Manchester or London”, referring to the suicide bombing in Manchester in northwest England on May 22, which left 22 people dead.
“Our community is in shock,” he said, urging people attending prayers to remain vigilant, a warning that was echoed by police.
“Extra policing resources have been deployed across London in order to reassure communities, especially those observing Ramadan. I would urge everyone to remain calm and vigilant,” Basu said.
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”.
Police, including armed officers, could be seen manning a wide cordon around the area, while others searched the area with sniffer dogs.
A group of Muslim men were praying on the pavement nearby.
– ‘Stand together’ –
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.
Hamza preached there from 1997 to 2003 before being jailed for inciting violence and later extradited to the United States.
In 2015, the mosque was one of around 20 that took part in an open day organised by the MCB to promote better understanding of Islam after Islamist-inspired terrorist attacks in Paris.
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.
After the London Bridge attack, Khan said there had been a 40 percent increase in racist incidents in the city and a fivefold increase in the number of anti-Muslim incidents.
As locals woke up to the horror Monday, some came onto the street in support of the mosque, holding up signs saying “We love our mixed community” and “Leave our Muslim neighbours alone”.
Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, the local MP for the area, said he would attend prayers later in the day at the mosque.
“I call on everyone to stand together against those who seek to divide us,” he said.