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'We saved the day': How Finsbury Park locals stopped van attack

Locals tell MEE of chaotic minutes after van ploughed through crowd outside London mosque, as they pinned suspect and treated wounded
A police officer stands guard after the van attack at Finsbury Park mosque (Reuters)

LONDON - Locals have told of the chaotic minutes after a van rammed into crowds at Finsbury Park mosque, as they pinned down a suspect shouting "I want to kill all Muslims" and "this is for London Bridge", while others desperately tried to save the injured.

The van ploughed through a crowd outside the north London mosque at about 12.20am on Monday, injuring 10 people and leaving an elderly man who suffered a heart attack dead. Witnesses said the driver of the vehicle had shouted "I want to kill all Muslims" before he was restrained. 

Local youths spoken to by Middle East Eye said they were forced to restrain the alleged attacker themselves for between 10 and 20 minutes. Ahmed Hajji, a 23-year-old local to Finsbury Park, said: "The police arrived late, which forced us to do a citizen's arrest of the man so he would not get away.

Local youths, who are always demonised in this area, were the ones that saved the day.

- Ahmed Hajji

"Local youths, who are always demonised in this area, were the ones that saved the day."

Abdi, another local who wanted to be identified only by his first name, said the attacker shouted "this is for London Bridge" - a reference to an attack by three men earlier this month. The man added "Just kill me, just kill me" as he was taken away by police, Abdi said.

Police declared the attack a "terrorist incident" within eight minutes of being notified at 12.21am. Cressida Dick, the Metropolitan police commissioner, said officers were at the scene within a minute and there was a large police presence within 10 minutes.

Another local said the suspect "was fighting back and tried to get out", but was prevented. Some in the area had tried to attack the man, but were fended off by those holding him and an imam from the mosque.

Elmi Abbas, another local, told MEE he had tried to help the heart-attack victim before police and ambulance services arrived.

"The locals had to give CPR. We had no choice. I was literally holding the man who died in my hands," he said. "It felt like hours not minutes."

Witnesses told MEE that the white van had intentionally targeted Muslim worshippers as they were leaving the mosque. 

Men pray outside Finsbury Park mosque after the van attack (Reuters)

One witness, Khalid, said the van driver shouted he wanted to kill all Muslims.

"He was shouting 'where are all Muslims, I wanna kill all Muslims'. Literally he said that, word by word. He said it like this," said Khalid.

Hadi Omar, another witness, told MEE: "The first group of people who were hit by van were men who came from the mosque and were sitting outside a nearby cafe.  

"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."

The Metropolitan Police said a 46-year-old man was arrested at the scene on suspicion of attempted murder, and that the attack had "all the hallmarks" of terrorism.

We condemn this act and to state once again that hatred and evil of this kind will never succeed.

- Theresa May, prime minister

Dick promised extra protection for Muslim communities in the coming days.

Speaking at the scene she said: "This was quite clearly an attack on Muslims who looked like they were probably Muslims and they were coming from a prayer meeting.

"We treat this as a terrorist attack. We take all kinds of hate crime or violent extremism incredibly serious and wherever we possibly can, prevent attacks.

"And if we cannot prevent an attack then we will seek obviously to bring people to justice.

"The people in Muslim communities attending prayers will see their police protecting them in the coming days and nights."

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

The British prime minister, Theresa May, said the attack had "once again targeted the ordinary and the innocent going about their daily lives – this time, British Muslims as they left a mosque, having broken their fast and prayed together at this sacred time of year".

She added: "Today we come together, as we have done before, to condemn this act and to state once again that hatred and evil of this kind will never succeed."

May said that the attack on Muslims was "every bit as insidious and destructive to our values and our way of life" as the recent string of terror attacks apparently motivated by Islamist extremism, adding: "We will stop at nothing to defeat it."