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Van rams worshippers leaving London mosque

World

UPDATED: One person has been killed and several people injured in north London after a van rammed into worshippers leaving a mosque, in what British police described as a "major incident".

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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 Ramadan, when people attend prayers at night.

London police say one man was pronounced dead at the scene, on Seven Sisters Road.

A 47-year-old man was initially arrested on suspicion of attempted murder but Scotland Yard said he was later arrested for the commission, preparation or instigation of terrorism including murder and attempted murder.

“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 Islamist 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,” 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.

“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.

Mohammed Shafiq of the Ramadhan Foundation, a Muslim organisation which speaks out against extremism, condemned what he described as a “senseless and evil van attack against Muslim worshippers”.

“According to eyewitnesses this was a deliberate attack against innocent Muslims going about their life,” he said.

“We should make clear that if this attack is confirmed as a deliberate terrorist attack then this should be classed as an act of terrorism.

“The British Muslim community requires all decent people to stand with us against this evil violence. Rampant Islamaphobia has been on the rise for a number of years and those on the far right have perpetuated hatred against Muslims.

“They should be called out for their hatred.”

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.

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.

-Reuters

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