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London van attack: counter-terror police investigate after worshipper killed near mosque

The Guardian logo The Guardian 19-06-2017 Vikram Dodd
Police and ambulance crews on the scene at Finsbury Park, London. © James Gourley/REX/Shutterstock Police and ambulance crews on the scene at Finsbury Park, London.

Police are investigating a potential terror attack in Finsbury Park, north London, after a van hit worshippers near a mosque, leaving one dead and eight injured.

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Prime Minister Theresa May has confirmed that Counter Terrorism Command has been called in after reports of a white van driving into pedestrians at about 12.20am on Monday.

Officers are investigating whether the collision was accidental or deliberate amid multiple reports from the scene that the van intentionally drove into the crowd which had left prayers at the nearby Finsbury Park mosque.

Armed officers have been deployed as a precaution.

In an early morning statement Theresa May has said police are treating the van incident “as a potential terrorist attack”.

She added: “I will chair an emergency meeting later this morning. All my thoughts are with the victims, their families and the emergency services on the scene.”

Police say a man, believed to be the driver of the vehicle, has been arrested. They have confirmed reports that passersby held the man on the ground before he was detained by officers.

The scene of the crash is outside the Muslim Welfare House and a few hundred metres away from the mosque.

Police initially released a brief statement on the incident. Nearly four hours later they added more information:

“Officers attended alongside other emergency services and found and tended to a number of casualties. One man was pronounced dead at the scene. Officers are in the process of informing next of kin. A post mortem examination will be scheduled due course.

“Eight people injured were taken to three separate hospitals; two people were treated at the scene for minor injuries.

“At this stage there are no reports of any persons having suffered any knife injuries. The driver of the van - a man aged 48 - was found detained by members of public at the scene and then arrested by police in connection with the incident.

“He has been taken to hospital as a precaution, and will be taken into custody once discharged. He will also be subject of a mental health assessment in due course.”

The London ambulance service said a “number of resources have been sent to the scene in Seven Sisters Road”. Kevin Bate, deputy director of operations, said: “We have sent a number of ambulance crews, advance paramedics and specialist responses teams to the scene. An advance trauma team from London’s air ambulance has also been dispatched by car.”

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) intially said worshippers were among the casualties. A tweet from the MCB said: “We have been informed that a van has run over worshippers as they left #finsburyparkmosque.”

The council later released a statement saying that it was aware that people were describing the incident as a “terror attack”.

Harun Khan, Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain, said: “During the night, ordinary British citizens were set upon while they were going about their lives, completing their night worship. My prayers are with the victims and their families.”

Images and video posted to Twitter showed police vehicles blocking the street and a cordon in place. More than a dozen emergency vehicles could be seen near the UKCG Help Centre at the junction of Seven Sisters Road and the A503 Tollington Road.

One resident told the Press Association he jumped out of the way as the van struck pedestrians. The man, who did not want to be named, said: “The gentleman went straight down this road, people were just conversing, talking, just doing what we’re doing.

“And he just came into all of us. There was a lot of people. We got told to move straight away. I was shocked, shocked, shocked. There were bodies around me. Thank God I just moved to the side, I just jumped. Everyone is hurt. Everyone is actually hurt.”

Another witness, Abdikadar Warfa, told the Guardian he and and others caught hold of the van driver, who threw kicks and punches as he tried to escape. He said: “He tried to run away, he tried to escape. Some people were hitting him. He was fighting to run away.

“I heard the sound of the van crashing. One person was under the van,
some were run over.

“My friend said he had to lift the van, I was busy with a man who tried to escape. My friend said he said some words, but I didn’t hear it.”

One witness, who asked not to be named by the Guardian, said: “I was sitting in a cafe. My cousin was injured, he’s in hospital now. Someone told me two people were stuck under the van. People tried to lift the van up. Police were quick to the scene.”

One woman who lives opposite the scene told the BBC: “From the window, I started hearing a lot of yelling and screeching, a lot of chaos outside. Everybody was shouting: ‘A van’s hit people, a van’s hit people’.”

Location of the van collision incident Location of the van collision incident

Prime Minister Theresa May has described the attack on worshippers near Finsbury Park mosque as a “terrible incident”, adding: “All my thoughts are with those who have been injured, their loved ones and the emergency services on the scene.”

The incident happened in Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s Islington north constituency. He released a statement on Twitter expressing his shock.

It comes after two attacks in London in which pedestrians were struck by vehicles. The first was in Westminster in March and and the second was a fortnight ago in London Bridge.

A helicopter could be heard circling over Finsbury Park and police have cordoned off the area.

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