VIDEO SOURCE: BBC NEWS
LONDON — A van plowed into pedestrians near a London mosque early Monday, injuring 10 people in what the city’s mayor called a “horrific terrorist attack.”
It appeared to be the third incident in as many months in the British capital involving a perpetrator deliberately driving a vehicle into a crowd.
According to police, all of the victims were Muslims. Worshippers had just finished prayers during the holy month of Ramadan when the vehicle slammed into people walking in the Finsbury Park area at 12:20 a.m. local time (7:20 p.m. ET).
One witness told NBC News that the driver “was laughing and ridiculing Muslims” after crashing the van.
A 48-year-old man was pulled from the vehicle and detained by people in the area, eyewitnesses and officials said. He was later arrested on suspicion of attempted murder.
“This was clearly a deliberate attack on innocent Londoners,” London Mayor Sadiq Khan said.
Before the attack unfolded, a crowd had already gathered because a man had collapsed in the street. He was being given first aid when the vehicle crashed into the group.
The man later died, Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu said at a press briefing at 8:30 a.m. local time (3:30 a.m. ET).
However, while he had initially been considered a victim of the attack, Basu said it was unclear whether his death was directly caused by it.
“Given the methodology … this had all the hallmarks of a terrorist incident, ” Basu told reporters. “This is an attack against London and all Londoners and we should all stand together against extremists whatever their cause.”
Saeed Hasm saw the incident play out.
“We saw the van speeding up and we thought maybe he was late for work or wanting to catch the traffic light, but suddenly he turned to the mosque side,” Hasm, who works at the London’s Qatari Embassy, told NBC News. “He hit the people, there were three people on the floor, then he moved on and there were another five or six on the floor.”
Hasm said he and others attempted to get the driver out of the vehicle “but before we get him out of the car he started fighting with us and spitting with us. He bit my thumb as well.”
He added the suspect “was a very strong guy, another five guys came and held him.”
“People were very angry,” he said. “They were smashing bottles, they wanted to hit him but we told them, ‘Don’t do it, don’t do it. Let the police come.'”
Ibn Omar, 25, who lives nearby, saw the aftermath of the attack.
“From the way the terrorist individual was behaving I could see he was laughing and ridiculing Muslims,” he said. “People were getting ready to hurt him, they were angry, but other people said, ‘That’s not how we should be doing it, we need to wait for the police to come.”
Omar added: “This was an attack on Muslims in this community, it is obvious. These were people just trying to practice their religion, 10 days before the end of the holy month of Ramadan.”
Basu, the deputy assistant police commissioner who also serves as senior national coordinator for counter-terrorism policing in the U.K., added: “I would like to thank those people who helped police in detaining the man and worked with officers to calmly and quickly get him into our custody. Their restraint in the circumstances was commendable.”
Although some eyewitnesses accused authorities of being slow to react, police said their officers were in the area when the attack unfolded and “responded instantly.” More police arrived within 10 minutes, the force added.
The incident occurred outside the Muslim Welfare House, a charity, community center and mosque, according to the Muslim Council of Britain, which represents more than 500 Muslim institutions and mosques in the U.K.
The center is near the Finsbury Park Mosque, a major house of worship where Muslims were praying during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Eight people were being treated at hospitals, and two others were treated at the scene, officials said.
The suspect was taken to a hospital as a precaution and will then undergo a mental health assessment, authorities said.
Basu highlighted that “extra policing resources have been deployed across London in order to reassure communities, especially those observing Ramadan.”
Home Secretary Amber Rudd, the lawmaker in charge of security in England and Wales, added: “We must all continue to stand together, resolute, against all those who try to divide us and spread hate and fear.”
The incident follows a string of attacks in recent months in England. Between two vehicle-and-knife rampages on London and Westminster bridges, and a suicide bombing outside an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, 33 people have been killed since March.
Finsbury Park Mosque was once led Abu Hamza al-Masri, whose extremist sermons were heard by Zacarias Moussaoui, one of the architects of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001; Richard Reid, the so-called shoe bomber who tried detonate explosives in his shoes on a jetliner in December 2001; and Mohammed Sidique Khan, who is believed to have orchestrated the July 7, 2005, bombings that killed 52 people in London.
But in 2015, the mosque reopened for what it described as a “new era” devoted to serving the local community.
Lucy Kafanov, Nick Bailey, Alexander Smith, Will Clark, Saphora Smith and Jason Cumming reported from London. Tim Stelloh reported from Alameda, California. Alex Johnson reported from Los Angeles. E.D. Cauchi and Rima Abdelkader reported from New York.
Source: NBC NEWS