Finsbury Park, London: Vehicle strikes pedestrians near mosque

LONDON (CBS News) – One person was arrested early Monday morning after a vehicle rammed into pedestrians, leaving ten people injured and possibly killing one in what police said appeared to have been a terrorist attack near a north London mosque.

The Metropolitan Police said they were called to the scene on Seven Sisters Road at 12:20 a.m. local time.

They said in a statement that one man was pronounced dead at the scene and at least eight more were taken to three separate hospitals with injuries. Two other people were treated at the scene for minor injuries.

The police later said it was unclear whether the deceased man might have died of an unrelated condition or injuries, as he was already on the ground being treated by bystanders after an apparent collapse when the van drove onto the sidewalk.

“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,” London deputy police commissioner Neil Basu said. “It is too early to state if his death was as a result of the attack.”

Regardless, police said the incident “had all the hallmarks of a terrorist incident.”

The driver of the van, a 48-year-old man, “was found detained by members of public at the scene and then arrested by police in connection with the incident,” according to a statement released by the police.

The lone suspect was taken to a hospital and treated for unspecified injuries before being placed under arrest on suspicion of attempted murder. He was to receive a “mental health assessment in due course.”

Police said there were no other people being sought in connection to the attack later Monday morning, but noted that the investigation was ongoing.

The police did not give any information about a suspected motive, but said the incident was being investigated by the Counter Terrorism Command, and noted that, “due to the nature of this incident extra policing resources have been deployed in order to reassure communities, especially those observing Ramadan.”

Witnesses said the van ran into worshipers as they left the Muslim Welfare House and the nearby Finsbury Park Mosque shortly after midnight prayers.

Witness Mohamed Mohidin told the Reuters news agency that the van driver came onto the sidewalk, “coming straight towards all the Muslims, and as he’s coming to them he hit all of them, and I think one of them died straight away… and the rest are in a bad condition.”

A man who said he helped tackle the van driver to the ground and hold him there until police arrived said the suspect told him he had, “wanted to kill more Muslims.”

Another witness, Khalid Amin, told the BBC that the van turned onto the sidewalk and “just hit the people.” He said that as members of the public seized the driver, “he was shouting, ‘all Muslims, I want to kill all Muslims.’ Literally, he said that. Word by word.”

Many people at the scene credited the Imam of the Muslim Welfare House, Mohammed Mahmoud, with calming the tense situation as bystanders held the suspect down before police arrived. He was heard trying to protect the van driver from some in the crowd who had directed their anger at the suspect.

The Finsbury Park mosque’s chairman, Mohammed Kozbar, called the incident a “cowardly attack” in a statement on on Twitter. “Our thoughts and prayers with those who got injured and [affected] by this cowardly attack in Finsbury Park area, many casualties in the floor,” Kozbar tweeted.

“Police have confirmed this is being treated as a potential terrorist attack,” U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May said, adding that she would chair an emergency meeting of her government later in the day.

“All my thoughts are with the victims, their families and the emergency services on the scene,” she said.

A leader of the Muslim Council of Britain called for extra security at mosques after the incident. The group’s general secretary, Harun Khan, said that eyewitnesses saw the van driver hit a number of Muslims.

“During the night, ordinary British citizens were set upon while they were going about their lives, completing their night worship. It appears from eyewitness accounts that the perpetrator was motivated by Islamophobia,” he said.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan, a Muslim, offered his “thoughts and prayers” on Twitter to the victims of what he called a “horrific terrorist attack on innocent people.”

“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. “The situation is still unfolding and I urge all Londoners to remain calm and vigilant.”

The van hit pedestrians outside the Muslim Welfare House, another Islamic community facility near the mosque. The Muslim Welfare House released a statement Monday saying that it was shocked and appalled by the event.

“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 said.

A witness who lives near the scene told the BBC she heard chaos outside her home.

“From the window, I started hearing a lot of yelling and screeching, a lot of chaos outside. Everybody was shouting: ‘A van’s hit people, a van’s hit people.’ 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 witness said.

Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party leader, said he was “totally shocked” by the event. “I’ve been in touch with the mosques, police and Islington Council,” he said in a statement on Twitter.

The incident Monday follows two deadly attacks in London in which pedestrians were deliberately mowed down by vehicles; in Westminster in March and the London Bridge attack earlier this month.

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