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London police make arrest after deadly knife attack, extra officers deployed

Justin Tallis, AFP | A police forensic officer (C) works in Russell Square in London after a deadly knife attack on August 4, 2016

A US woman was killed and five other people injured Wednesday night by a man with suspected mental health issues who went on a rampage with a knife in London. UK police said there was no evidence the attack was terrorism related.

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Armed police were called at 10:33 pm (2133 GMT) after a man armed with a knife started to attack people in London’s Russell Square, a popular park near the site of the deadly suicide bombings of July 7, 2005.

The victim, an American woman in her 60s, was treated at the scene but pronounced dead a short time later. She was the wife of an eminent psychology professor at Florida State University (FSU) who was teaching the summer session at FSU's London Study Program, the university said in a statement on Thursday.

Another woman and four men were treated in hospital, though three of them were later discharged.

The London police's Assistant Commissioner for Specialist Operations Mark Rowley told reporters that those injured in the attack included nationals from Australia, Britain, Israel and the United States.

Police, who arrived within six minutes of being called, used a Taser electric shock gun to arrest the 19-year-old suspect.

Rowley, one of Britain's most senior anti-terrorism officers, said that a Norwegian national of Somali origin had been detained but they had found no evidence of radicalisation to suggest the motive was related to terrorism.

“All of the work we have done so far increasingly points to this tragic incident as having been triggered by mental health issues,” he said.“We believe this was a spontaneous attack and that the victims were selected at random.”

“So far we have found no evidence of radicalisation that would suggest that the man in our custody is in any way motivated by terrorism,” Rowley added.

Police cordoned off the southern part of the square, which sits at the heart of London's university area and is close to landmarks such as the British Museum, for several hours as forensics officers examined the attack scene.

The threat level in Britain remains at “severe”, its second highest level, meaning a strike is “highly likely”. London police had already pledged to deploy more armed offices after a spate of terrorist attacks in other European countries.

Just hours before the Russell Square attack, London's police chief said that he would deploy an additional 600 armed officers across the capital to protect against attacks.

Terrorists targetting the 'vulnerable'

Rowley has previously warned that Islamic State group was seeking to radicalise vulnerable people with mental health issues to carry out attacks. He said that, in some operations, police commanders have taken advice from specialist psychologists.

Islamist militants struck London with coordinated suicide bombings on July 7, 2005, killing 52 people. One of the bombs detonated on a bus close to Russell Square.

Since then, dozens of plots have been foiled and there have been smaller-scale attacks, such as the killing of an off-duty soldier on a street in south London by two extremists in May 2013.

“Londoners will wake up and in the morning they will notice an increased police presence on the streets, including armed officers,” Rowley said.

“This is to provide reassurance and safety. We ask the public to remain calm, vigilant and alert,” he said.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan urged Londoners to report anything suspicious to the police‎.

"The safety of all Londoners is my number one priority and my heart goes out to the victims of the incident in Russell Square and their loved ones," Khan said.

The US ambassador to the UK, Matthew Barzun, said of the woman who died: "Heartbreaking news that a U.S. citizen was killed in #RussellSquare attack. My prayers are with all the victims and their loved ones."

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

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