UPDATE: 3:17 a.m. EDT — A witness, who wanted to be identified as Abdul Rahman, said the driver of the van who attacked pedestrians in Finsbury Park, London, tried to escape and was heard saying “I want to kill Muslims,” before being restrained by onlookers, according to the Guardian.
Earlier another witness had also told Buzzfeed News the driver yelled out the same thing.
Prime Minister Theresa May said Monday that authorities were treating the recent attack near Finsbury Park, London “as a potential terrorist attack,” adding: “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,” according to the Guardian.
Authorities confirmed one person had been killed and the attack left 10 others injured, out of which two were treated on the scene. Police said they were dealing with a “major incident” near a mosque in London and had deployed extra officers “to reassure communities, especially those observing Ramadan.”
The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan released a statement on Facebook condemning the attack and called it “deliberate” saying it targeted “innocent Londoners, many of whom were finishing prayers during the holy month of Ramadan.”
“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,” he said in his statement.
Home secretary Amber Rudd also issued a statement in response to the attack, according to the Guardian.
“My thoughts are with all those affected by the appalling incident at Finsbury Park. I am in contact with the Metropolitan Police who have confirmed it is being investigated by their Counter Terrorism Command. We must all continue to stand together, resolute, against all those who try to divide us and spread hate and fear.”
Witnesses told the media the van was being driven at the speed of 50 miles per hour and veered off the road deliberately into worshippers, who were leaving prayers on Seven Sisters Road, near Finsbury Park station, shortly after midnight. Boubou Sougou, 23, one of the witnesses said: “It was deliberate, it was not an accident.”
“From the window, I started hearing a lot of yelling and screeching, a lot of chaos outside,” a woman who lives opposite to the scene of the accident told BBC. “There was this white van stopped outside Finsbury Park mosque that seemed to have hit people who were coming out after prayers had finished,” the woman added.
Witnesses said several people were injured before passers-by could stop the driver after he left the van. A witness, who identified himself as Ali described the horrific scenes after the accident as wounded people lay on the pavement.
“There was one guy who was bleeding from his head, from his foot,” he told the Independent. “There was a woman on the floor who had fallen out a wheelchair, we helped her up. There were loads of people in the streets on the ground. There was blood on the pavement.”
The attack, which took place outside the Muslim Welfare House on Seven Sisters Road, was after the devotees were leaving the premises following “Tarawih” prayers performed for the holy month of Ramadan. The Islamic center and mosque released a statement early Monday morning, appealing for calm.
“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,” it reads.
There had been confusion earlier about whether the attack took place as the worshipers left the mosques in Finsbury Park and also outside the Muslim Welfare House on Seven Sisters Road. Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation Muslim organization, said the attack came as members of both mosques left prayers. “According to eyewitnesses it was a deliberate attack against innocent Muslims, and if that’s confirmed by authorities it should be classed as a terror attack, no doubt about that,” Shafiq said.
Police authorities confirmed they had made one arrest and there were no other suspects except the 48-year-old man, who was believed to be driver of the van. The suspect was restrained by the passers-by during the incident and then handed over to the police.