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'Hero' imam praises group that saved Finsbury Park suspect from angry crowd

The Guardian logo The Guardian 6/19/2017 Damien Gayle and Alice Ross
Mohammed Mahmoud, centre, praised the ‘group of brothers’ who helped him protect the man suspected of carrying out the mosque attack. © AFP/Getty Images Mohammed Mahmoud, centre, praised the ‘group of brothers’ who helped him protect the man suspected of carrying out the mosque attack.

An imam hailed as a hero for preventing bystanders from attacking the suspected Finsbury Park mosque attacker has praised the “calm and collected” group who helped him keep the peace.

Mohammed Mahmoud, an imam at the Muslim Welfare House, arrived shortly after the suspected attacker was wrestled to the ground. “By god’s grace we managed to surround him and protect him from any harm,” Mahmoud said at a press conference in north London on Monday afternoon.

“We stopped all forms of attack and abuse towards him that were coming from every angle.”

Mahmoud said he and others protected the man until they managed to flag down a passing police van. “We told them the situation and said there’s a mob attempting to hurt him. If you don’t take him God forbid he might be seriously hurt,” he said.

“So we pushed people away from him until he was safely taken by police into custody and put into the back of the van. And that’s all that we did. It wasn’t me alone, there were a group of brothers.

“They were calm and collected and managed to calm people down and to extinguish any flames of anger or mob rule that would have taken charge had this group of mature brothers not stepped in.” He said that the man, who was later arrested on suspicion of attempted murder, was unscathed.

Mahmoud praised the community in Finsbury Park. “It is a mild-mannered, calm community not known for [its] violence,” he said. “Our mosques are incredibly peaceful … I can assure you we will do our outmost to calm down any tensions.”

Earlier, three men who said they helped to restrain the mosque attack suspectpraised Mahmoud. “The imam came from the mosque and he said, ‘Listen we are fasting, this is Ramadan, we are not supposed to do these kinds of things so please step back,’” said Mohammed, one of the men who held the suspect down.

“For that reason this guy is still alive today,” added Mohammed, a 29-year-old cafe owner. “This is the only reason. If the imam was not there he wouldn’t be there today.”

In a statement Toufik Kacimi, the mosque and welfare centre’s chief executive, praised Mahmoud’s bravery, which he said “helped calm the immediate situation after the incident and prevented further injuries and potential loss of life”. He later said that he was “the hero of the day”.

Mobile phone footage showing the suspect being held on the ground captures the voice of a man shouting: “No one touch him – no one! No one!”

Other witnesses corroborated Mohammed’s account. Adil Rana, 24, who was outside the mosque when the van drove towards the crowd, said that initially some people had attacked the suspect. 

“The driver jumped out and then he was pinned down to the floor and people were punching him and beating him, which was reasonable because of what he’s done,” he said. “And then the imam of the mosque actually came out and said: ‘Don’t hit him, hand him over to the police, pin him down.’”

Hussain Ali, 28, said: “The leader of the mosque said: ‘You do not touch him.’ He was sitting and holding him like that, people kept holding him.”

The three men, who were sitting outside a cafe at the time of the incident, described their effort to subdue the suspected attacker and his reaction. “There was no regret, no emotion, he was just there smiling and blowing kisses. He said, ‘I’ve done what I’m supposed to do,’” said Mohammed.

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