London (AFP) – Worshippers leaving a London mosque on Monday just after midnight were helping an unwell elderly man when a van deliberately targeted them, eyewitnesses said, driven by an attacker who shouted: “I want to kill all Muslims”.
The van swerved towards people who had just left the Finsbury Park Mosque in north London who were assisting the man who had collapsed.
“He just drove at people,” eyewitness Abdiqadir Warra told AFP.
“Some of them he took a few metres. A man was inside in the van, I saw with my eye, and the old man was also on the ground, and I see some people were also injured. Some of them were very bad.”
Locals then pounced on the driver and pinned him down while waiting for the police to arrive.
“The man, he tried to escape… but they caught the driver,” Warra said.
Eyewitness Khalid Amin told BBC television that the van turned deliberately and “just hit the people”.
One man was trapped under the van and people tried to lift up the vehicle to free him.
Amin said that when people seized the driver, “he was shouting: ‘All Muslims, I want to kill all Muslims.’ Literally, he said that. Word by word.”
Police said that one man had been arrested at the scene and that no further suspects had been identified.
Abdul Rahman, another eyewitness, who told the BBC he struck the driver and helped subdue him, separately claimed he had said he wanted to “kill all Muslims”.
– Victim given heart massage –
A video clip taken by a female eyewitness and seen by AFP shows a white rental van and one man laying on the side of the road with his head propped up. A man speaking in the video said the wounded man was pulled from under the van.
A later clip, by which time police are on the scene, shows a man being treated on the ground with what looked like a towel or a top being held to his head.
Dozens of concerned people, several in Islamic dress, were close by, while a man in a white t-shirt administered heart massage to another person on the ground, and another person was lying face down on the street.
Zahra Musa, 43, who filmed the clip, said people were leaving the mosque for a food break when the incident happened. The man who collapsed was a regular at the mosque, she said.
Another eyewitness, who gave his name as Athman, told AFP: “People were screaming: ‘It’s a terrorist attack, it’s an attack, this guy attacked us’, and I had to run back and tried to save people who were still alive and giving water, helping the police.
“While he was in the police van he was waving for victory, he was very happy.
“He chose the time and he chose the place and he chose his target. So, it’s the holy month of Ramadan.
“The time — he was planning for it; the target — he was planning for it; and the place — outside a mosque.”
– Jewish patrol show of support –
Muslim prayers were later held in the street next to the police cordon, where armed officers could also be seen among the dozens of police at the cordon.
A black funeral directors’ van was also present.
Shomrim, the north London Haredi Jewish community’s civilian volunteer security force, often help protect the area’s Muslim population too.
“We came like 20 minutes after it happened,” said Eli Feld, 29, from Shomrim.
“A lot of chaos, you could see people running, people don’t know what’s happening, shock and everything,” he told AFP.
“We came with a whole team just to show our support for the Muslim community.”
A dozen bunches of flowers had been deposited outside the mosque as commuters went to work on Monday morning.
After daybreak, one person at the scene, Alison, who gave her age as over 60, held up a hand-written sign reading: “Leave our Muslim neighbours alone”.
“I’m upset and angry that my neighbourhood has been defiled by these people who are racists and idiots. And I don’t want to see any kind of escalation of any bad feeling,” she told AFP.
“I’ve been here for over 35 years and it’s always been mixed and really peaceful and I don’t want to see that change.”
Another home-made sign read: “This is NOT a war. It’s just a few deranged individuals. Acting out their demented macho fantasies. They are not with us. We love our mixed community.”