LONDON: Several people were injured in north London early on Monday when a van rammed into worshippers leaving a mosque, witnesses said, in what British police described as a “major incident”.
The Muslim Council of Britain said the vehicle hit people as they were leaving the Finsbury Park Mosque, one of Britain’s largest. The attack comes during the Muslim holy month of Ramazan, when people attend prayers at night.
Two worshippers were feared killed, according to the Sun newspaper, but there was no immediate confirmation of this.
Police said they were called just after 12.20 am (2320 GMT Sunday) to reports of a collision on Seven Sisters Road, which runs through the Finsbury Park area of the city. They said there were a number of casualties and one person had been arrested.
“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’,” one woman who lives opposite the scene told the 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. I didn’t see the attacker himself, although he seems to have been arrested, but I did see the van.”
A man leapt out of the van and stabbed at least one person, the Evening Standard newspaper said, citing witnesses. Reuters could not immediately confirm that report.
The incident follows a series of attacks in Britain in recent months blamed on militants, the latest just over two weeks ago in which three men drove into pedestrians on London Bridge and stabbed people at nearby restaurants and bars, killing eight..
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,” the witness, identified only as Rayan, said.
Other witnesses told Sky television that the van had hit at least 10 people.
British counter-terrorism police have joined regular police officers looking into the incident at a north London mosque, the Guardian newspaper reported.
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.
“A number of passers-by, or friends, or people who had come by from the mosque, were gathering around him to help take him to his family, take him to his house,” Versi told Reuters.
“At that moment in time, basically a van swerved into them deliberately,” he said, citing a witness at the scene.
He said the driver had run out of the van but a group of people caught him and held him until police arrived.
A Reuters witness saw at least one person being loaded into an ambulance. Armed police, ambulances and the fire service were in attendance.
The incident comes at a time of political turmoil in Britain, as Prime Minister Theresa May plunges into divorce talks with the European Union weakened by the loss of her parliamentary majority in a June 8 election.
It also follows a series of attacks, including the van-and-knife attack on London Bridge on June 3. On March 22, 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 May 22, a suicide bomber killed 22 people at a concert by American pop singer Ariana Grande in Manchester in northern England.
In 2015, the mosque was one of around 20 that took part in an open day organised by the MCB to promote better understanding of Islam following attacks in Paris.
The mosque received a string of threatening emails and letters in the wake of the Paris attacks.
British Prime Minister Theresa May said on Monday that her thoughts were with all those injured.
“This is a terrible incident,” May said in an emailed statement. “All my thoughts are with those who have been injured, their loved ones, and the emergency services on the scene.”
The leader of Britain’s opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, said he was “totally shocked” by the incident in North London.
“I’m totally shocked at the incident at Finsbury Park tonight,” Corbyn posted on Twitter. “My thoughts are with those and the community affected by this awful event.”
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