London police plead for calm after attack

Local people observe prayers at Finsbury Park where a vehicle struck pedestrians in London Monday, June 19, 2017. Police say a vehicle struck pedestrians near a mosque in north London, leaving several casualties and one person was arrested. (Yui Mok/PA via AP)

LONDON — A white man plowed a van into a crowd of Muslim worshippers outside a north London mosque early today in an attack that police say they are investigating as a terrorist incident.

Ten people were injured in the attack and police said another man died at the scene, though he was receiving first aid at the time and it wasn’t clear if he died as a result of the attack or of something else.

British Prime Minister Theresa May condemned the attack “on innocent people” and declared that Britain would stop at nothing to defeat extremism.

“Hatred and evil of this kind will never succeed,” she said in a televised statement.

Police said the 48-year-old man who was driving the van that hit people leaving evening prayers at the Finsbury Park mosque has been arrested on suspicion of attempted murder. Police have not released his identity. He has been taken to a hospital as a precaution.

Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu said police are investigating whether the death of the man getting first aid was a direct result of the attack, but it was too early to say for sure.

London police — already stretched by a series of tragedies including a June 14 high-rise apartment fire in which 79 people are presumed dead and a June 3 terror attack near London Bridge that killed seven people — said they are putting more officers on the street to reassure the public. Muslim leaders called for calm.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan, the first Muslim to serve in that position, urged residents to focus on their shared values and to stand together during this an unprecedented period in the capital’s history. The attack on Monday hits a community already feeling targeted in the fallout from the London Bridge killings and other attacks blamed on Islamic extremists.

“While this appears to be an attack on a particular community, like the terrible attacks in Manchester, Westminster and London Bridge, it is also an assault on all our shared values of tolerance, freedom and respect,” Khan said. “The situation is still unfolding and I urge all Londoners to remain calm and vigilant.”

British security officials, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with official policy, said hate crimes directed at Muslims have increased nearly five-fold in the wake of several attacks in Britain.

Counter-terror officials said they were closely monitoring terror activity linked to far-right groups but most of the recent attacks have been traced to individuals rather than groups.

Sky News reported that the mosque’s imam prevented the crowd from beating the attacker until police arrived.

Toufik Kacimi, chief executive of the Muslim Welfare House, speaking to Sky News, said the attack clearly targeted Muslims leaving evening prayers during Ramadan.

“We have a witness saying that the guy who did what he did, the driver of the van, said ‘I did my bit,’ which means he’s not mentally ill,” Kacimi said. “This person was conscious. He did what he did deliberately to hit and kill as many Muslims as possible, so he is a terrorist.”