A MAN has died, and eight people have been hospitalised, after a van drove into pedestrians outside a Muslim place of worship in north London in the early hours of Monday morning. Two more victims were treated at the scene on Seven Sisters Road, in Finsbury Park.
The Metropolitan Police confirmed that the incident was being treated as a terrorist attack. A 48-year-old man was arrested at the scene after being detained by members of the public.
The Archbishop of Canterbury has compared the incident with other recent terrorist attacks, calling it “a crime against God and against humanity”.
Worshippers were reported to have been leaving prayers, soon after midnight, when the van mounted the pavement. It was unclear whether the death was as a direct result of the alleged attack. It has been reported that the man who died was receiving medical attention from the public at the time of the incident.
Speaking on Monday morning, the senior national coordinator for counter terrorism, deputy assistant commissioner Neil Basu, said: “Sadly, Londoners are waking to the news of another dreadful incident in the capital that has left a number of people seriously injured.
“The attack unfolded whilst a man was receiving first aid from the public at the scene; sadly, he has died. Any causative link between his death and the attack will form part of our investigation. It is too early to state if his death was as a result of the attack.”
The Muslim Council of Britain confirmed that the incident had taken place outside the Muslim Welfare Centre, not Finsbury Park Mosque, as previously reported. Its secretary-general, Harun Khan, 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. It appears from eye-witness accounts that the perpetrator was motivated by Islamophobia.”
Witnesses reported that an imam at the centre had prevented angry members of the public from harming the suspect while awaiting the arrival of the police.
The Muslim Welfare Centre said that the Muslim community was “horrified” at the incident, but urged the public and the media not to speculate. “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 Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who is MP for the area (Islington North), also called for calm: “I am shocked and horrified by this horrific and cruel attack,” he said. “I call on everyone to stand together against those who seek to divide us.” Mr Corbyn had met with members of the centre, and was due to attend prayers at Finsbury Park Mosque later on Monday.
Mr Basu said that the past few months had been an “incredibly challenging time” for London, not least the “stretched” emergency services. “Nevertheless, we will do absolutely all we can — with our partners — to protect Londoners and our city. Now is a time once again for London to stand together to face those who seek to divide us.”
The Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Cressida Dick, later said: “My officers were on the scene almost immediately, and other uniformed and specialist officers quickly arrived to support them. They worked quickly with colleagues from the other emergency services to treat the injured.”
Extra officers were being put on duty in the area, and at mosques across London, he said. “An attack on one community is an attack on all of us. Terrorists will not succeed in their attempts to divide us and make us live in fear.”
The Bishop of Stepney, the Rt Revd Adrian Newman, echoed the Commissioner. “An attack on any faith is an attack on us all,” he said in a statement. “It sadly comes after a weekend, in memory of Jo Cox MP, that celebrated all that brings us together, and I know that the mosque, hand-in-hand with other local faith and community groups, was at the heart of events in the Finsbury Park area.
“We will offer up our churches to help our friends at the mosque in any way we can. We will not be cowed by those who seek to terrorise our communities.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury posted on Facebook: “The freedom to worship without fear is a right we cherish as a nation and was won at great human cost over many years. . . At a time when we are all grieving the loss of so many precious people in London and Manchester, this brutal attack can only compound the trauma. Violence only begets more violence — it serves only the interests of those who would terrorise others.”
He concluded: “This wanton and cruel act can produce no good and cannot be justified or excused. In exactly the same way as previous recent attacks it is a crime against God and against humanity.”
The parish church, St John the Evangelist, was open for prayers, the Vicar, the Revd Daniel Sandham, said. He prayed for his “Muslim friends” and those injured in the incident.
“We are shocked and saddened by this attack, which in no way reflects this local community, which is as harmonious as it is diverse. It’s not just an attack on the Muslim community, but on all people of peace and good will. Christian and Muslim leaders in Finsbury Park meet every couple of months to strengthen the bonds of friendship.”