London van attack targeting mosque is being treated as terrorism
Police in London are investigating yet another terror attack in the city, after a van plowed into a group of people near a mosque early Monday — leaving one person dead and 10 others injured. The police have detained a 48-year-old man on suspicion of attempted murder. The suspect was heard to shout “I want to kill all Muslims” as he tried to escape.
The attack happened near the Finsbury Park Mosque in the early hours of Monday morning. A group of Muslims were tending to a man who had collapsed on the street. As they were administering aid, a van mounted the pavement and drove into the crowd. The man who was being looked after subsequently died, but it’s not clear whether his death was a result of the attack.
Islamophobic assaults have increased in the wake of recent London terror attacks, with figures released June 7 showing a 40 percent increase in hate crimes directed against muslims compared to 2016 averages.
London’s Metropolitan police labeled the incident a “terrorist attack,” as did Prime Minister Theresa May, who was woken up to be informed of the event. “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,” May said in a statement.
After the security meeting Monday morning, the prime minister addressed the country again, saying: “This was an attack on Muslims near their place of worship… [which] seeks to drive us apart.”
The city’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, denounced the incident as “a horrific terrorist attack on innocent people in Finsbury Park.” Monday’s attack marks the third time in the space of three months that a van has been deliberately used to kill pedestrians, following the Westminster Bridge attack in March and last week’s London Bridge assault earlier this month.
Finsbury Park mosque rose to prominence in the 1990s because of its association with the radical cleric Abu Hamza. That relationship ended more than a decade ago when the mosque was taken over by new management.
Hamza was given a six-year jail term at the Old Bailey in 2006 for inciting racial hatred and soliciting murder. He is now serving a life sentence in the U.S. Today the Finsbury Park mosque is viewed as a model of community relations and integration.
A white van – with the words “Pontyclun Van Hire” written on it – was driven up Seven Sisters road just after midnight. The vehicle veered off course and plowed into a group of a dozen or so people who were gathered around a man who had collapsed on the ground. The collision happened just as many worshippers had broken their Ramadan fast, and finished evening prayers at Finsbury Park mosque – just around the corner from the scene of the incident.
After the van came to a stop, the 48-year-old driver jumped out and tried to escape, but several people tackled him and pinned him to the ground until the police arrived at the scene minutes later. Multiple eyewitnesses reported hearing the man shouting “I done my bit” and “I want to kill all Muslims” after he exited the van.
— Hamza Sharif (@HamzaJourno) June 19, 2017
Anger in the crowd was calmed by the imam from the local Muslim welfare center, who guarded the suspect until police took him into custody.
The man being helped on the street prior to the attack died at the scene. Eight people were taken to hospital by ambulance, while several others were treated for minor injuries at the scene. The driver was taken to hospital as a precaution and will later be subject to a mental health assessment.
What has the reaction been?
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who is also the local MP for the area, visited the scene Monday, and spoke to community leaders. He said he was “shocked by this horrific attack,” and signaled solidarity with the Muslim community by announcing that he would be attending prayers at Finsbury Park mosque later Monday with Islington council leader Richard Watts.
I am shocked by this horrific and cruel attack in Finsbury Park, which is being treated as an act of terror. pic.twitter.com/fipwZJ1eBZ
— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) June 19, 2017
Corbyn’s party colleague Diane Abbott said police need to “urgently review security for all mosques.”
— Diane Abbott (@HackneyAbbott) June 19, 2017
European commissioner for home affairs, Dimitris Avramopoulos, called for unity in the wake of the attack:
Strongly condemn attack near Mosque at #FinsburyPark.To those who wish to divide our communities, we have to respond with unity.
— DimitrisAvramopoulos (@Avramopoulos) June 19, 2017
On Monday morning, a worker at the Finsbury Park underground station, which backs onto the Muslim welfare center, attempted to show that the community was united against recent terror attacks:
My local tube worker Finsbury Park pic.twitter.com/oDRRHQr7J1
— Charlie Robertson (@RencapMan) June 19, 2017
Reaction from the religious community
Harun Khan, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain said: “Over the past weeks and months, Muslims have endured many incidents of Islamophobia, and this is the most violent manifestation to date. We expect the authorities to increase security outside mosques as a matter of urgency.”
The Muslim Association of Britain called on politicians to “treat this major incident as no less than a terrorist attack. We call on the government to do more to tackle this hateful evil ideology which has spread over these past years and resulted in an increase of islamophobic attacks and division of our society, as well as spreading of hate.”
Dr Omer El-Hamdoon, the association’s president, said all Muslims should be “extra vigilant following these hateful Islamophobic attacks, and to be cautious.”
Mohammed Kozbar, the chairman of the nearby Finsbury Park mosque, said: “This is a shocking new terrorist attack — and we have to call it that. It’s no different to Manchester, Westminster, or London Bridge. Innocent people have lost their lives while just going about their business. Innocent people are being killed in cold blood.”
The Muslim welfare house said in a statement following the incident: “We have worked very hard over decades to build a peaceful and tolerant community here in Finsbury Park and we totally condemn any act of hate that tries to drive our wonderful community apart. We would appeal for calm at this time. It is unhelpful for there to be speculation about the incident.”
The organization added that it was incumbent on everyone, including the media, “to act responsibly at this time.”
The attack at #FinsburyPark mosque is abhorrent. We stand in solidarity with our Muslim friends and pray for the bereaved and injured.
— Justin Welby ن (@JustinWelby) June 19, 2017
Other religious leaders have united in their condemnation of the attack, with the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, labelling it “abhorrent” and adding: “We stand in solidarity with our Muslim friends and pray for the bereaved and injured.”
Bhai Amrik Singh, chair of the Sikh Federation UK, added his voice, saying, “The incidents in the last three months suggest there needs to be an honest dialogue and a fundamental shift in the way government tackles all forms of hate and terror.”
Cover: Ik Aldama/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images