Pedestrian Attack In London Investigated As Suspected Terrorism

Jun 19, 2017
Originally published on June 19, 2017 7:01 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Another terror attack in London - another van mowing people down. This time, though, the target was Muslim worshippers leaving a late-night prayer session. One man is dead, though witnesses say he took ill before the attack. Another eight are in the hospital. Today's attack follows two previous terror attacks in recent months and also a massive apartment-block fire that killed at least 79 last week. And London's mayor, Sadiq Khan, recently spoke about the city's extraordinary times.

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SADIQ KHAN: These have been a terrible few weeks for London, unprecedented in recent times. We will stay a strong city.

GREENE: And let's turn to our correspondent who is based in the city of London, NPR's Frank Langfitt. He spent the morning on the scene of the latest attack. Hi, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: These attacks are sadly becoming numbingly familiar. How did people - witnesses - describe this one?

LANGFITT: Well, this happened after midnight. People were outside the Muslim Welfare House in Finsbury Park. It's up in north London. This man became ill - the one you were referring to in the intro. And worshippers got him a chair on the sidewalk. And then, out of nowhere, a van - a white van - comes roaring at them, hits the people on the sidewalk, according to witnesses, dragging a couple of people underneath.

Now, our producer Russell Newlove - he was there earlier today. He spoke with a neighbor, Abdullahi (ph). He's 18 years old, a student. And he had just gotten out of mosque. And he described the scene right after the van had arrived.

ABDULLAHI: A man on the floor - they tried to resuscitate him. I saw people crying. I saw a man. He's bleeding from his head. He'd definitely been hit. Very, very, very, very bizarre scenes.

GREENE: Frank, who was driving this van? Do we know anything about the driver?

LANGFITT: Police say he was 48 years old. There were a lot of witnesses, a lot of cellphone video - a big, burly white guy. He said, according to witnesses - many witnesses - that he wanted to kill Muslims. And he had done his bit. There's no name yet from the police. And we're not quite sure where he's from in the United Kingdom.

GREENE: But he is in custody, as far as we know.

LANGFITT: He is very much in custody.

GREENE: OK. What are the authorities saying, beyond that they have him?

LANGFITT: Well, they're treating this as a terror attack. And what they also see it - along with these other attacks - there were two others here and then one up in Manchester earlier - as a way to divide this city and the country. London Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick - she was on the scene earlier today. Here's how she put it.

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CRESSIDA DICK: The people who perpetrated attacks like this think they will break our society down and cause division within - between us. And they won't do that. And they won't win. This is a very resilient city, and this is a very, very resilient set of communities.

GREENE: Frank, resilience, though, being tested in London.

LANGFITT: Very much so.

GREENE: I mean, how is this city reacting to all this?

LANGFITT: Well, in the community in particular this morning, there's a lot of anger. They feel - they suspect - we don't know. We haven't heard from the assailant yet or the police who've interviewed him. But they see this as a retaliation.

As Mayor Khan was mentioning, it's been an extraordinary several months here. We've had, all together, four terror attacks in the United Kingdom - three here in London. The Westminster Bridge attack, of course, up in Manchester. We had the concert attack after the end of the Ariana Grande concert and also the attack on London Bridge.

And they feel that this is very unfair - that they're just worshippers, and why should they be targeted? They had nothing to do with these earlier attacks. Now, after the van hit the people, people on the street actually wrestled the man to the ground. An imam jumped in from the welfare center and stopped people who wanted to beat this man. And they held him until police arrived.

GREENE: What an extraordinary moment. So are people scared that there's going be more of this now?

LANGFITT: They are. A lot of people I talked to were really, really frightened. There was an uptick, according to the mayor, after the London Bridge attacks in Islamophobia. Police - and the mayor is promising more police around mosques to make people feel more comfortable. But I was talking to a woman who moved here 13 years ago from Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, a place I used to cover. And she was leaving perpetual civil war. And she's now quite frightened and says she doesn't even want to go back to her mosque.

GREENE: All right. NPR's Frank Langfitt. Frank, thanks.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.