British police declare deadly Reading stabbings ‘terrorism’

Emergency helicopters at Forbury park in Reading where the stabbing attack took place, on June 20, 2020.
Emergency helicopters at Forbury park in Reading where the stabbing attack took place, on June 20, 2020. © AFP / COGP79

British police said on Sunday they were treating a stabbing spree in which a lone assailant killed three people in a park in the southern English city of Reading as a "terrorism incident".

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"Counter Terrorism Policing can now confirm that the stabbing incident that happened in Reading last night (20/6), has now been declared a terrorist incident," Thames Valley Police said in a statement. 

The Thames Valley Police force said officers arrested a 25-year-old local man at the scene and they were not looking for anyone else.

“There is no intelligence to suggest that there is any further danger to the public,” Detective Chief Superintendent Ian Hunter said earlier on Sunday.

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British media had earlier reported that police suspected a terrorist motive and that the man arrested was Libyan. Police did not confirm that or release the suspect’s name.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said his “thoughts are with all of those affected by the appalling incident in Reading”. 

The violence erupted around 7pm as families and friends were enjoying a warm, sunny evening in the Forbury Gardens park in Reading, a town of about 200,000 residents 40 miles (64 kilometres) west of London. 

Witnesses reported that police cars and helicopters descended on the park. Within minutes police had blocked off several roads, and two air ambulances landed nearby.

Personal trainer Lawrence Wort said the park was full of groups socialising on the grass when “one lone person walked through, suddenly shouted some unintelligible words and went around a large group of around 10, trying to stab them”.

“He stabbed three of them, severely in the neck, and under the arms, and then turned and started running towards me, and we turned and started running,” Wort said. “When he realised that he couldn’t catch us, he tried to stab another group. He got one person in the back of the neck and then when he realised everyone was starting to run, he ran out the park.”

Police said that “a number of people were injured and taken to hospital. Tragically, three of these people died, and another three sustained serious injuries”. 

The Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading said it was treating two casualties from the incident.

The incident came hours after a Black Lives Matter demonstration at Forbury Gardens, but police said there was no connection between the attack and the protest.

Nieema Hassan, one of the organisers of Saturday’s protest, said demonstrators had left by the time the violence occurred. In a social media post, she said she was “praying for the people that are affected. I hope they’re OK”.

Britain’s official terrorism threat level stands at “substantial”, the middle level on a five-rung scale, meaning an attack is likely.

It had previously stood a notch higher for several years. The country has been hit by a series of violent attacks in recent years, including a suicide bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester in 2017 that killed 22 people and two deadly vehicle and knife attacks in London the same year.

Airline worker Carlos Garcia Pascual was walking to his home near Forbury Gardens when emergency vehicles and police officers descended. He said it was “chaos” as police yelled at people to leave the area.

“We didn’t know if it was a situation like happened in London a few years ago, where the attackers were on the loose,” he said. “Forbury Gardens is a peaceful place, a lot of families go there with their kids to play, picnics. To realize that happened in Forbury Gardens is really hard to believe.”

(FRANCE 24 with AP and REUTERS)

 

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