LONDON — A van plowed into a group of Muslim worshipers as they were leaving prayers at a pair of north London mosques early Monday, leaving one person dead and injuring 10 others in what is being called a “terrorist attack.”
Witnesses said the driver of the vehicle was heard shouting that he wanted to kill Muslims.
“This is being treated as a terrorist attack,” Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu told reporters. He added that the driver of the van was arrested on suspicion of murder.
Prime Minister Theresa May confirmed the incident was being treated as a “potential” terrorist incident and that she would chair an emergency meeting later on Monday.
Police commended locals for their bravery and restraint in detaining the driver.
Abdulrahman Aidroos and his friends were attending to an elderly man who had collapsed on the ground when suddenly he saw a man in a van driving “straight into us.”
When the driver of the van jumped out of the vehicle and tried to run “I tackled him on the floor until the police came,” Aidroos told the BBC. “When he was running, he said ‘I want to kill more people, I want to kill more Muslims,’” he said.
“When I got him on the ground, I said, ‘Why are you doing this?’ He said, ‘I want to kill more Muslims.’”
After the suspected terrorist was pinned to the ground, an imam told the crowd to stay back from the driver.
Hussain Ali, 28, told the Press Association, a British wire agency, that the leader of the mosque told the crowd “do not touch him” as they waited for the police to arrive.
Basu said that police were keeping an “open mind” on the motivations behind the attack, but “given the methodology and given what was occurring and what’s happened, the tragic incidents across the country, this had all the hallmarks of a terrorist incident.”
Police said that all of the victims were from the Muslim community, but it was “too early to tell” if the man who died at the scene did so as a result of the attack. The man who died was receiving first aid prior to the incident, they said.
The van sped off the roadway and swerved onto a sidewalk, which was crowded with hundreds of people who had just finished the special night time prayers for the holy month of Ramadan, witnesses reported.
In a statement, police said eight people were hospitalized while two others were treated at the scene.
Police said they were dealing with “a major incident” and had deployed extra officers “to reassure communities, especially those observing Ramadan.”
London Mayor Sadiq Khan, the city’s first Muslim mayor, called the incident a “horrific terrorist attack,” which was “clearly a deliberate attack on innocent Londoners, many of whom were finishing prayers during the holy month of Ramadan.”
“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,” he said in a statement.
The incident occurred near two mosques: the Finsbury Park Mosque and the Muslim Welfare House. The Muslim Council of Britain tweeted: “We have been informed that a van has run over worshipers as they left #FinsburyPark Mosque. Our prayers are with the victims.”
Video taken in the immediate aftermath of the incident and posted on social media showed people screaming as bystanders performed chest compressions on one of the injured. Nearby, a man held a bloody cloth to his head.
Helicopters buzzed overhead, and ambulances and police cars raced to the scene. The London ambulance service said a “number of resources have been sent to the scene in Seven Sisters Road.”
One woman who said she lives next to the scene told the BBC that she had heard yelling and screeching outside her window.
“Everybody was shouting: ‘A van’s hit people, a van’s hit people,’” she said.
A man told Britain’s Press Association that the van had swerved suddenly and that he had narrowly avoided being hit.
“People were just conversing, talking, just doing what we’re doing,” said the man, who declined to give his name. “And he just came into all of us. There was a lot of people … I was shocked, shocked, shocked. There were bodies around me.”
He added: “Thank God I just moved to the side, I just jumped.”
Hours after the incident, as dawn broke, a large and angry crowd remained in the streets. Many called the incident a terrorist attack, saying the driver had deliberately targeted Muslims.
Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party and the local member of parliament for the area, said on Twitter he was “totally shocked.”
The Finsbury Park Mosque – located in a vibrant, multicultural area of north London – was once closely associated with extremism. But in the past decade, the mosque has transformed its image, with its leadership outspoken in advocating interfaith harmony.
During the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign – amid the furor of candidate Donald Trump’s proposed Muslim ban – Corbyn invited Trump to visit the mosque to show him how “multicultural, multifaith” Britain works.
The incident early Monday follows two recent terrorist attacks in London in which vehicles have been used as weapons, both on bridges over the Thames River.
Eight people were killed last month when attackers used a van to plow into pedestrians on London Bridge, then got out to stab restaurant patrons with knives at the adjacent Borough Market. In March, a lone attacker drove his car into people on Westminster Bridge, then fatally stabbed a police officer at the gates of Parliament.
In both cases, the attackers were shot dead by security forces.