LONDON, June 19 — British Prime Minister Theresa May vowed today to fight terrorism in all its forms after a white driver ploughed his van into a crowd of Muslims in a suspected Islamophobic attack.
It was the fourth terror strike in a tumultuous four months in Britain.
Ten people were injured in the incident which took place in the early hours of today after evening prayers in a mosque in Finsbury Park in north London.
One man also died at the scene after falling ill for unrelated reasons just before the attacker struck.
May condemned the assault as “sickening”, saying Britain’s determination to fight “terrorism, extremism and hatred... must be the same, whoever is responsible”.
The 48-year-old van driver was detained by people at the scene before being arrested on suspicion of attempted murder.
The Finsbury Park Mosque 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.
Many linked the attack to an increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes, particularly since a van and knife rampage in the capital on June 3 that left eight people dead, which was claimed by the Islamic State group.
Stepped up police presence
London police chief Cressida Dick said the incident was “quite clearly an attack on Muslims” and promised a stepped-up police presence near mosques as the holy month of Ramadan draws to a close.
The attack unfolded as an elderly man was receiving first aid from members of the public in an unrelated incident.
The man later died, though it is not yet clear whether his death was linked to the attack, said Neil Basu, the police senior national counter-terror coordinator.
Witness Abdiqadir Warra told AFP 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.
Ten people were hurt, all Muslims, with eight requiring hospital treatment. Two were in a very serious condition, police said.
Basu praised locals for detaining the man, saying their “restraint in the circumstances was commendable”.
France and Germany quickly condemned the attack and Egypt’s Al-Azhar institution, the leading authority in Sunni Islam, condemned it as ”sinful” and urged Western countries to take steps against Islamophobia.
“Al-Azhar affirms its total rejection of this terrorist, racist, sinful act, calling on Western countries to take all precautionary measures to limit the phenomenon of Islamophobia,” it said in a statement.
US President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump expressed solidarity with the worshippers in a tweet but her father has so far remained silent.
Community in shock
May, who was heavily criticised for failing to meet survivors of a devastating fire in a London tower block last week, visited Finsbury Park Mosque where she met local faith leaders.
The use of a vehicle to mow down pedestrians drew horrifying parallels with this month’s London Bridge attack, when three men drove a van into pedestrians before embarking on a stabbing spree, and with another car and knife rampage near parliament in March.
This time the attacker appeared to have deliberately targed 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, an umbrella body.
After the London Bridge attack, city mayor Sadiq Khan’s office reported a 40 per cent increase in racist incidents in the capital and a fivefold increase in anti-Muslim incidents.
Khan said it was a “horrific terrorist attack” aimed at “innocent Londoners, many of whom were finishing prayers during the holy month of Ramadan”.
Mohammed Kozbar, chairman of the Finsbury Park Mosque, described the attack as “cowardly”.
“Our community is in shock,” he said, urging people attending prayers to remain vigilant.
It was the third major incident in the capital this month, after the London Bridge attack and last week’s devastating fire in the Grenfell Tower block, in which 79 people are thought to have died.
“This is an extraordinary city of extraordinary people,” May said outside Downing Street after chairing an emergency government meeting.
“It is home to a multitude of communities that together make London one of the greatest cities on Earth. Diverse, welcoming, vibrant, compassionate, confident and determined never to give in to hate.”
Last month, a suicide bomber blew himself up outside a pop concert in Britain’s third city of Manchester, killing 22 people, many of them children.
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.
Despite the change in leadership and the focus on bolstering inter-faith relations, the mosque reported it had received a string of threatening emails and letters in the wake of the Paris attacks.
Some locals came onto the street in support of the mosque today, carrying signs saying “We love our mixed community” and “Leave our Muslim neighbours alone”. — AFP