One man was killed and eight people hospitalised when a van ran into pedestrians near a mosque in north London in an incident that is being investigated by counter-terrorism officers, police said on Monday.
The 48-year-old male driver of the van “was found detained by members of the public at the scene and then arrested by police,” a police statement said. The incident comes after two deadly attacks this year that used vehicles to ram pedestrians — a stabbing spree earlier this month in the London Bridge area and a March attack in which a man drove a rented car into crowds on Westminster Bridge.
Police said in a statement there were a number of casualties in what they described as a “major incident”, adding that they were called to reports of a vehicle in collision with pedestrians shortly after midnight. We have been informed that a van has run over worshippers as they left #FinsburyPark Mosque. Our prayers are with the victims,” the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), an umbrella body, said on Twitter.
Harun Khan, the head of the MCB, said the van had “intentionally” run over people leaving night prayers for the holy month of Ramazan. Prime Minister Theresa May condemned it as a “terrible incident”, while opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said he was “totally shocked” and had been in touch with mosques and police. The area is in Corbyn’s Islington North constituency.
A helicopter hovered overhead and several emergency vehicles blocked a section of Seven Sisters Road, a busy thoroughfare where the incident happened. Police, including armed officers, could be seen manning a wide cordon around the area. Others searched the area with sniffer dogs. A group of Muslim men were praying on the pavement nearby. Traffic was shut down along a one-kilometre section of the road.
“We saw lots of people shouting and lots of people injured,” David Robinson, 41, who arrived just after the accident, told AFP. Cynthia Vanzella, who lives near the scene, said on Twitter: “Horrible to watch police officers doing cardiac massage at people on the floor, desperately trying to save them. I just hope they did.” MCB deputy head Miqdaad Versi said the incident happened “outside the Muslim Welfare House”, which is on Seven Sisters Road near the mosque.
The London Ambulance Service said: “We have sent a number of ambulance crews, advance paramedics and specialist responses teams to the scene. Our priority is to assess the level and nature of injuries and ensure that those most in need are treated first and taken to hospital.” Finsbury Park mosque was once a notorious hub for radical Islamists but has entirely changed in recent years under new management.
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Its former imam Abu Hamza was jailed for life in New York on terrorism charges in 2015. He preached there from 1997 to 2003 before being jailed for inciting violence. He was 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 following terrorist attacks in Paris. Despite the change in leadership and new focus on community relations, the mosque reported it had received a string of threatening emails and letters in the wake of the Paris attacks.
“If this attack is confirmed as a deliberate terrorist attack then this should be classed as an act of terrorism,” said Mohammed Shafiq, head of the Ramadhan Foundation community group. “The British Muslim community requires all decent people to stand with us against this evil violence,” he said, adding that “rampant Islamophobia has been on the rise for a number of years”. Cage, a Muslim human rights group, said there had been “an epidemic rise in anti-Muslim hate crimes”.
“We urge all to remain calm and do their utmost not to inflame an already volatile and distressing situation,” it said in a statement. Monday’s incident in London follows an attack on June 3 in which three militants wearing fake suicide vests ran over pedestrians and went on a stabbing spree in bars in the London Bridge area. They killed eight people before being shot dead by police.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said following that attack that there had been a 40-percent increase in racist incidents in the city and a fivefold increase in the number of anti-Muslim incidents. On his Facebook page, Khan at the time called on Londoners “to pull together, and send a clear message around the world that our city will never be divided by these hideous individuals who seek to harm us and destroy our way of life”.
Britain has seen two other attacks this year. On March 22, a man drove a rented car into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge in London and stabbed a police officer guarding the British parliament to death before being shot dead. Five people were killed in the attack. On May 22, a suicide bomber blew himself up outside a pop concert in Manchester, killing 22 people.