LONDON — One man died and 10 people were injured after a van was rammed into a crowd of worshippers near a mosque in north London, in the latest terror attack to hit the UK this year.
British Prime Minister Theresa May said the attack was directed at Muslims and condemned it as “every bit as sickening” as deadly Islamist attacks that hit the country in recent months.
London’s Metropolitan Police said officers were called just after midnight Sunday to an incident on Seven Sisters Road. A 48-year-old white man was wrestled to the ground by members of the public and then arrested at the scene on suspicion of attempted murder, authorities said.
British Home Secretary Amber Rudd says police “immediately” treated the incident as a suspected terrorist attack.
Rudd, who is in charge for government law enforcement, said: “londoners have been hit with a series of attacks and have been nothing short of heroic.”
A witness told CNN’s Phil Black the van “came to a stop, and that’s when they were able to apprehend the driver … they were able to pull him out.”
London Ambulance tweeted: “We have sent a number of resources to an incident in Seven Sisters Road. More information will follow when we have it.”
Transport for London tweeted that Seven Sisters Road was closed northbound at Hornsey Road and southbound at Rock Street.
The incident comes at a time when emotions are high in England, where there have been several recent terrorist attacks. On May 22, a suicide attack killed 22 people and injured nearly 60 after an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester. Then on June 3, eight people were killed and 48 were injured when three men drove a van into pedestrians on London Bridge before leaping out and launching a stabbing spree in nearby bars and restaurants.
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.”
CNN national terror analyst Peter Bergen said the Finsbury Park neighborhood has a large Muslim population and the nearby mosque has a notorious reputation as a place where Islamist militants used to gather.
“If you were interested in targeting a group of Muslims at a mosque that was notorious, this would be the mosque you would do it at. I think it’s significant that they had the reputation historically of being one of the most militant mosques in London. And that reputation may be more historical than current,” he said.
Bergen added: “Ramadan, particularly in a country like the UK, where the days are very long in June, you know you’re fasting from dawn to dusk and you’re breaking the fast at night. … Night comes pretty late in London this time of year. It wouldn’t be odd that you would have large numbers of people breaking their fasts and praying at this time.”
Opened in 1994, Finsbury Park Mosque is an unassuming five-story redbrick building in residential north London, close to Arsenal Football Club’s Emirates Stadium. The mosque, which today operates largely as a community center, rose to international notoriety in the early 2000s, due to its links with Egyptian-born radical cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri.
Abu Hamza, who was the mosque’s imam from 1997 to 2003, was later extradited to the United States, where he was convicted of supporting al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists, and sentenced to life in prison in 2015. Among those known to have worshiped at the mosque during Abu-Hamza’s time there are convicted shoe bomber Richard Reid and Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called 20th hijacker of September 11.
The Islington borough of North London, of which Finsbury Park is a part, is home to a large Muslim community. Around 10% of the borough’s population is Muslim.
Islington’s Seven Sisters Road, where the attack took place, is home to at least four mosques, and would have likely been filled with worshipers leaving late-night taraweeh prayers and heading back toward the Finsbury Park Underground Station.
Resident Cynthia Vanzella said she was in bed when she heard people shouting. Vanzella said she went to the window and saw “loads of people gathering” in a corner across the road from her window.
“They were very nervous, shouting very loud, trying desperately to make some signs to a police car that was … just passing the road,” she told CNN.
“I saw so many of them crying, screaming, trying to get the police and the ambulance,” she said.
She added: “I saw a lot of people injured. They were helping on the pavement and trying to help them to get to the scene.”
Vanzella said she saw police put a man into a police car and take him away, but she didn’t see them arrest him.
“People were shouting this is an act of terrorism, even though he’s white,” another witness, Hillary Briffa, said, referring to the man taken away be police.
“These were the kinds of comments people were yelling out,” she said.
She added: “Everybody was clamoring around and shouting at the man … There was a lot of shouting in Arabic, so I can’t tell you exactly what was being said.”
Developing story. More to come.
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.