One man was killed and eight people were wounded when a van ran into pedestrians near a mosque in north London in an incident that is being investigated by counterterrorism officers, police said early on Monday.
The 48-year-old male driver of the van “was found detained by members of the public at the scene and then arrested by police,” a police statement said. Police said no other suspects have been identified, but their investigation continues.
Muslim leaders said worshipers were mowed down after leaving a mosque.
Metropolitan Police said officers were called to the scene on Seven Sisters Road in Finsbury Park in north London at 12:20 a.m. local time Monday. Police said in a statement that they were called to reports of “a vehicle in collision with pedestrians.”
“We have been informed that a van has run over worshipers as they left #FinsburyPark Mosque. Our prayers are with the victims,” the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), an umbrella body, said on Twitter.
Harun Khan, the head of the MCB, said the van had “intentionally” run over people leaving night prayers.
Several witnesses told media that the collision was deliberate, describing how the van slammed into a group of people.
The neighborhood has two mosques, and several hundred worshipers would have been in the area after attending prayers as part of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims fast from dawn to dusk and end the day with an iftar meal at sunset.
British Prime Minister Theresa May called an emergency meeting in the wake of the apparent attack, which she called a “terrible incident,” saying, “All my thoughts are with the victims, their families and the emergency services on the scene.”
The chairman of the Finsbury Park Mosque, Mohammed Kozbar, said the van crash was a “cowardly attack.” He complained that the “mainstream media” was unwilling to call it a terrorist incident for many hours.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan decried the incident as a “horrific terrorist attack.”
“It seems the van went on to the pavement where there were people drinking coffee after their fast,” Rabbi Herschel Gluck of the Jewish security group Shomrim told The Guardian, after rushing to the scene. “We are here to support the local community. The hurt are predominantly Muslim.”
Another witness, Boubou Sougou, 23, told the Guardian that the collision “was not an accident, I saw everything. People were badly injured. The van driver tried to escape but people grabbed him. He did not say anything.”
An unnamed resident who witnessed the incident said the driver “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 eyewitness said the driver of the vehicle tried to fight to get away after hitting the crowd.
“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,” Abdikadir Warfa told the Guardian, adding that he was one of the people who tried to subdue the driver while authorities arrived.
A helicopter and many emergency vehicles were at the scene, which was closed off by a large police cordon.
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“We saw lots of people shouting and lots of people injured,” David Robinson, 41, who arrived just after the accident, said.
Traffic was shut down on a section of Seven Sisters Road, where the incident happened.
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The mosque near Seven Sisters was once a notorious hub for radical Islamists but has since become more liberal. Its former imam Abu Hamza was jailed for life in New York on terrorism charges in 2015. He preached there from 1997 to 2003, and was later extradited to the United States.
In 2015, the mosque was one of around 20 that took part in an open day organized by the MCB to promote better understanding of Islam following the deadly terror attacks in Paris that year.
Britain has been on high alert following a pair of attacks in recent weeks that claimed the lives of some 30 people. Its terror alert has been set at “severe,” meaning an attack is highly likely.
Earlier this month, three terrorists carried out a vehicular attack followed by a stabbing spree in London that left eight people dead and dozens wounded. The attackers were killed by police.
In Manchester in late May, a suicide bomber killed 22 people, including many children, at an arena where a pop concert had just ended.
Both attacks were claimed by the Islamic State terror group.
In March, a terrorist drove into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge in London, killing four, and fatally stabbed a policeman guarding the gates of parliament before being shot dead by armed officers.