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'Terrorism is terrorism': Van rams crowd at London mosque

Mayor Sadiq Khan condemns 'deliberate attack on innocent Londoners' at Finsbury Park Mosque, where one person died
Police line near Finsbury Park early on Monday after van attack (Reuters)

A 48-year-old man has been arrested and charged with attempted murder after a van was driven into worshippers leaving a London mosque early on Monday, where one person died and 10 others were injured.

The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: "Terrorism is terrorism whether it's inspired by Islamists, or whether it's inspired by others."

The Muslim Council of Britain said the vehicle hit people as they were leaving the Finsbury Park mosque, one of the biggest in the country. The attack was during Ramadan, when worshippers attend prayers at night.

A group of worshippers held the van driver until police were able to intervene. Reports said the group stopped other members of the crowd from attacking the driver.

Britain's prime minister, Theresa May, said her thoughts were with those injured in "this terrible incident". 

Neil Basu, a senior counter-terrorism officer for the Metropolitan Police, said: "This was an attack on London and all Londoners and we should all stand together against extremists whatever their cause."

He added that it had "all the hallmarks" of a terrorist attack.

"The attack unfolded whilst the man was already receiving first aid from public at the scene. And sadly that man 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 this attack."

The Muslim Council said the incident was the most violent manifestation of Islamophobia in Britain in recent months and called for extra security at places of worship.

"It appears that a white man in a van intentionally ploughed into a group of worshippers who were already tending to someone who had been taken ill," the council said.

“A white van coming towards Finsbury Park swayed into a number of people near the mosque," witness Mohammed Suleiman told MEE. "When it stopped, two people came out one by one with objects in their hands. Then people came to help the injured and surrounded the driver, while the other two got away."

"The first group of people who were hit by van were men who came from the mosque and were sitting outside a nearby cafe," Hadi Omar told MEE at the scene. "The man driving the van was white, and he didn't stop. He kept going with people underneath, driving towards the mosque where more people were coming out."

"People had to lift the van to pick up people who’d been run over, and then perform CPR on them," Omar said.

In a statement, Sadiq Khan said that the incident was an "attack on our shared values of tolerance, freedom and respect".

"We don't know the full details but this was clearly a deliberate attack on innocent Londoners, many of whom were finishing prayers during the holy month of Ramadan."

Witnesses who spoke to Middle East Eye described the two men from the van who escaped from the scene also as white.

Some said the driver of the van shouted: "I want to kill all Muslims," after he was placed under citizen's arrest and held for police by local people leaving the mosque.

Police said they were called just after 12.20am to reports of a collision on Seven Sisters Road, which runs through the Finsbury Park area of north London.

Muaz Mahmoud, who was in Finsbury Park at the time of the attack, said in a post on Facebook: 

"I came home from taraweeh [prayers] and was about to jump in the shower to cool off, when suddenly my wife and I heard people screaming and then heard the biggest bang ever.

"The noise was so loud and people were screaming so much. I thought it was some attack on Muslims so turned off the lights and told my wife to stay inside and call the police.

"I went outside my house to see a massive van that had crashed in front of my door. There were people screaming from being hit.

"There was a man trapped under the van. The driver was pulled out and taken to the curb. The guys around him said that they smelt alcohol on his breath and maybe he was drunk."

"Man in a lorry took a sharp left turn with so much speed into our side road (which is an immediate dead end). This was 100 percent deliberate. There is NO TURN on our road! The timing is NOT a coincidence!"

The incident comes just over two weeks after three attackers drove into pedestrians on London Bridge and stabbed people at nearby restaurants and bars, killing eight. Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack.

One witness told CNN it was clear that the attacker at Finsbury Park had deliberately targeted Muslims.

"He tried to kill a lot of people, so obviously it's a terrorist attack. He targeted Muslims this time," said the witness, identified only as Rayan.

Other witnesses told Sky television that the van had hit at least 10 people.

Miqdaad Versi, assistant secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said the van had deliberately swerved into a group of people who were helping a man who was ill and had fallen to the ground.

"Basically, a van swerved into them deliberately," Versi told Reuters, citing a witness.

He said the driver had run out of the van but a group of people caught him and held him until police arrived.

Britain has been hit by a series of attacks in recent months, including the van-and-knife attack on London Bridge on 3 June.

On 22 March, a man drove a rented car into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge in London and stabbed a policeman to death before being shot dead. His attack killed five people.

On 22 May, a suicide bomber killed 22 people at a concert by American pop singer Ariana Grande in Manchester in northern England.

The attacks were a factor in campaigning ahead of the 8 June election, with May criticised for overseeing a drop of 20,000 in the number of police officers in England and Wales as interior minister from 2010 to 2016.

She was also criticised for keeping her distance from angry residents during her visit to the charred remains of the 24-storey Grenfell Tower, which caught fire on Wednesday.

She said on Saturday the response to the fire, in which at least 58 people were killed, had been "not good enough".

The Finsbury Park Mosque gained notoriety more than a decade ago for sermons by radical cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri, who was sentenced to life in a US prison in January 2015 for his conviction on terrorism-related charges.

A new board of trustees and management took over in February 2005, a year after Abu Hamza was arrested by British police, and since then attendance has greatly increased among worshippers from various communities, according to the mosque's website.

Areeb Ullah contributed to this report