Incident at Finsbury Park mosque treated as terrorism
Date created : Latest update :
Police said at least one person died and 10 were injured when a vehicle veered into a crowd and hit pedestrians in Finsbury Park, in north London, shortly after midnight.
Reacting to the violent incident, Prime Minister Theresa May confirmed it was an attack on Muslims near their place of worship, and said it was of a “terrorist” nature.
"This morning, our country woke to news of another terrorist attack on the streets of our capital city: the second this month and every bit as sickening as those which have come before," May said outside her Downing Street office.
She added that the attacker had acted alone, and that the security needs of mosques in Britain would be assessed.
British police said it was too early to say whether the death was due to the attack as the man who died was was already receiving first aid at the scene when the attack unfolded. They said all the victims were Muslim.
The British Home Secretary Amber Rudd said police "immediately" treated the fatal incident as a suspected terrorist attack.
The Home Office later Monday said the suspect was not known to the security services in terms of extremism or far-right extremism.
The crash occurred at a time when the multiethnic neighbourhood was crowded with Muslims leaving the Finsbury Park mosque after Ramadan prayers. Muslim leaders called it a hate crime and asked the public to stay calm.
"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 Ramadan. "It appears from eyewitness accounts that the perpetrator was motivated by Islamophobia," he commented.
France24’s UK correspondent in London Bénédicte Paviot said witnesses at the scene heard the driver shouting “All Muslims, all Muslims, I want to kill all Muslims”.
UK terrorist alert set at 'severe'
Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said he was "totally shocked" by the attack and had been in touch with mosques and police. The area is in Corbyn's Islington North constituency.
Britain's terrorist alert has been set at "severe", meaning an attack is highly likely.
London police closed the area to normal traffic. 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."
The Finsbury Park mosque was associated with extremist ideology for several years after the 9/11 attacks in the United States, but was shut down and reorganised. It has not been associated with radical views for more than a decade.
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 Islamist-inspired 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.
Spike in anti-Muslim crime
Monday's incident in London follows an Islamist-inspired 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 to death a police officer guarding the British parliament 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.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP and AP)