1 dead as van strikes worshippers near London mosque

Police officers attend to the scene after a vehicle collided with pedestrians near a mosque in the Finsbury Park neighborhood of North London, Britain June 19, 2017. REUTERS/Neil Hall

A van slammed into worshippers near a mosque in London early Monday, killing one person and injuring 10 other people in what witnesses described as a deliberate attack on Muslims and that British Prime Minister Theresa May said police were investigating as a potential terrorist incident.

Police arrested a 48-year-old man suspected of driving the van into a group of people as they left the Finsbury Park Mosque in north London shortly after midnight. He was arrested after being detained by members of the public, the Metropolitan Police said.

The incident comes during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and follows three attacks in Britain in as many months. Police said Monday’s incident had all the “hallmarks” of terrorism, although stopped short of formally calling it that.

The van’s driver was arrested on suspicion of murder. Police said all the victims were members of the Muslim community. The suspect’s identity was not released.
Eyewitness Abdul Rahman told the BBC that the driver of the van said that he wanted to “kill all Muslims.” Rahman told the British broadcaster that he hit the suspect and helped subdue him. “I hit him on his stomach … and then me and the other guys … we held him to the ground until he couldn’t move. We stopped him until the police came.”

Harun Khan, a leader of the Muslim Council of Britain, described the incident as a hate crime against Muslims and called for extra security around mosques.

“During the night, ordinary British citizens were set upon while they were going about their lives, completing their night worship,” he said. “It appears from eyewitness accounts that the perpetrator was motivated by Islamophobia.”

London Mayor Sadiq Khan, the first Muslim to serve in that position, said that “while this appears to be an attack on a particular community, like the terrible attacks in Manchester, Westminster and London Bridge it is also an assault on all our shared values of tolerance, freedom and respect.”

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Police Commissioner Cressida Dick called for calm and attempted to reassure members of the public. “Extra officers are on duty in the area to help reassure the local community. They will be there for as long as they are needed. Communities will see additional officers patrolling across the city and at Muslim places of worship.”

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 reorganized. It has not been associated with radical views for more than a decade.

Earlier this month, a van veered into pedestrians on London Bridge, setting off vehicle and knife attacks that killed eight people and wounded many others on the bridge and in the nearby Borough Market area. Three Muslim extremists who carried out the attack were killed by police. Manchester was also hit by a severe attack when a bomber killed more than 20 people at an Ariana Grande concert in late May.

And in March, a driver plowed into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge, causing four deaths, then exited the vehicle and stabbed a police officer to death. The Islamic State group, also known as ISIS, claimed responsibility for all three attacks.

Monday’s incident also comes as Britain was coming to terms with a fire at a residential tower block that killed an estimated 58 people. Chronic mismanagement and disregard for fire safety measures by the building’s landlord is suspected in that case. That incident, plus the four attacks, have stretched British authorities.

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