A WITNESS has described the horrifying scenes after a white rental van plowed into a crowd outside the Muslim Welfare House in north London shortly after midnight on Monday (19).
Moments prior to the collision, Aweys Sheikh Ali was running southwest down Seven Sisters Road, to help Markram Ali, 51, who had collapsed on the pavement.
The van was speeding northeast up the road. Without warning the van veered sharply to the left, mounted the curb and rammed into a crowd of worshippers who were administering first aid to Ali.
“All of a sudden the van mounts the curb and rams into the people trying to help this guy,” he said. “Then the man jumped out of the van and tried to escape. We saw him and grabbed him, trying to hold him down until the police arrived.”
Sheikh Ali confirmed earlier reports stating that the man, named by the Metropolitan Police as 47-year-old Darren Osborne, said: “I want to kill Muslims… I did my bit”.
Osborne was punched and kicked, according to Sheikh Ali.
“But how else do you hold him?” he asked. “The police took ages to come.”
As the angry crowd shouted and cursed Osborne, Imam Mohammed Mahmoud came out of the welfare house in order to persuade the crowd not to harm the Somerset native.
“We helped hold him until police came and helped prevent him from being further harmed,” Sheikh Ali said.
He said it felt like the police arrived 20 to 40 minutes after the initial incident.
Deputy assistant commissioner Neil Basu, who is the senior national coordinator for counter terrorism, said it took police 10 minutes to respond.
They arrested Osborne shortly after arriving at the scene, declaring that the attack was being treated as a terrorist incident.
Makram Ali died from injuries sustained by the attack that night. Eleven others were injured, nine of whom were taken to hospital for treatment.
Osborne was arrested on suspicion of the commision, preparation or instigation of terrorism; murder; and attempted murder.
Secretary of state for communities and local government, Sajid Javid, visited the site of the attack later in the day to express his sympathies for the victims, their families and friends. He condemned the attack and said the community has the full support of the government.
“I am here as well to reassure the local Muslim community, and Muslims across Britain, that as a government we will always take a zero-tolerance approach to hate crime, whether it is anti-Muslim hate crime or any type or hate crime in this country,” Javid said.
With Ramadan coming to a close, additional police patrols and “policing resources” are being deployed across London.
“Whatever resources are necessary to give people the reassurances over security they want, that’s what will be provided,” Javid said. “The police say they can provide extra support and that’s good.”
Basu confirmed Javid’s commitment to increasing the police presence in spite of government plans to cut hundreds of millions of pounds from the police budget.
“Extra policing resources have been deployed across London in order to reassure communities, especially those observing Ramadan,” he said.
British Prime Minister Theresa May also visited the scene after chairing a Cobra emergency committee meeting. Cobra meets to discuss high-priority issues that affect multiple government departments. It was the fourth such meeting since March.
The prime minister condemned the attack, calling it “an evil borne out of hatred”. Speaking directly after the meeting, she too confirmed that extra police would be deployed and called for unity and cooperation to fight extremism.
“This morning we have seen a sickening attempt to destroy [the UK’s fundamental] freedoms, and to break those bonds of citizenship that define our United Kingdom,” she said. “It is a reminder that terrorism, extremism and hatred take many forms, and our determination to tackle them must be the same whoever is responsible.”
Javid emphasised that in order to tackle extremism, empathy among local communities is just as important as practical assistance. He strssed the importance of people from all backgrounds sticking together to condemn hate in all of its forms.
“There are people who try to divide us, this is an example of that. There will be people on social media who try to divide us,” he said. “But my message to those people, whether violent extremists or non-violent extremists, they will fail.”
Minister for faith, Lord Bourne, also visited Finsbury Park on Monday night (19) to hear concerns from local residents of all faiths, among them Christians, Jews and Muslims.
“People of all faiths should feel free to practise their beliefs without fear of attack,” he said. “Encouraging communities to come together in this way is more important now than ever.”
Mosques across London have convened meetings to discuss security concerns in the aftermath of the attack.
“An emergency meeting has been called with our local police commander and local authority to review security concerns for our mosque and others in Tower Hamlets,” a spokesman for the East London Mosque said. “We urge vigilance against further terrorist attacks and violent hate crimes.”
The East London Mosque was evacuated at noon (19) in response to a bomb threat that was phoned in anonymously, just 12 hours after the Finsbury Park attack.
“The mosque received a telephone threat a short while ago. Buildings were evacuated and sweeps carried out by the police and mosque staff,” an official tweeted. “While we understand this incident to be a hoax, we still urge vigilance in our community.”