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Van strikes crowd outside mosque in London; one person is arrested

Local men pray at Finsbury Park where a vehicle struck pedestrians Monday in London. Police say a vehicle struck pedestrians near a mosque in north London, leaving several casualties. One person was arrested. [Yui Mok/PA via AP]

Local men pray at Finsbury Park where a vehicle struck pedestrians Monday in London. Police say a vehicle struck pedestrians near a mosque in north London, leaving several casualties. One person was arrested. [Yui Mok/PA via AP]

LONDON — A van drove into pedestrians early Monday in London, reviving anxieties in the British capital, which has endured two recent terrorist attacks involving vehicles.

Police say the driver is a 48-year-old man who has been arrested and taken to a hospital.

The van struck a crowd of worshippers leaving a mosque early Monday morning, killing one person and injuring several others. Eight of the injured were taken to hospitals and the rest were treated at the scene.

Several hundred worshippers would have been in the area at the time after attending prayers as part of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Police said the Counter Terrorism Command was investigating the crash. Britain's terrorist alert has been set at "severe" meaning an attack is highly likely.

Prime Minister Theresa May described the crash early Monday morning as a "terrible incident."

She said, "All my thoughts are with those who have been injured, their loved ones and the emergency services on the scene."

The incident Monday, which police were called to at 12:20 a.m., occurred on Seven Sisters Road in Finsbury Park, a neighborhood where many immigrants live.

Witnesses on the scene, as well as numerous accounts on social media, said the pedestrians were hit outside the Finsbury Park Mosque or the close by Muslim Welfare House, a community center.

"We have been informed that a van has run over worshipers as they left #FinsburyPark Mosque," the Muslim Council of Britain said on Twitter. "Our prayers are with the victims."

"Our prayers and thoughts with those injured outside Muslim Welfare House in Seven Sisters road hit by a van mounting pavement," MEND, a nonprofit organization that fights Islamophobia and encourages British Muslims to get more involved in media and politics, wrote on Twitter.

A witness, Mahroof Mohammed, was having his evening tea at a Somalian restaurant on Seven Sisters Road when he heard people running.

He went outside and saw several injured people. "There were seven or eight, three of them were bleeding badly," Mohammed said. "They were all leaving the mosque when they got hit by the van."

Mohammed said that most of the victims he saw were men, but he also saw one old woman injured.

"An old man was severely injured," his walking stick right next to him, Mohammed, a local businessman, said. "His family said he passed away."

Boubou Sougou, 23, was leaving the gym on the intersection of Seven Sisters and Isledon Road when he saw people bleeding in the parking lot of the Finsbury Park Mosque.

"There were around five people that were injured, one old man was severely injured," Sougou said.

"His family had gathered around him, trying to resuscitate him."

On social media, witnesses said they believed the victims had been performing Tarawih, the evening prayers performed by Sunni Muslims at night in the Islamic month of Ramadan.

Police arrived about 15 to 20 minutes after the incident, Mohammed said. "It was three local men that were holding the man from the van until police came and put him inside the van," he said.

Mohammed said that the man being held was white and had heavily tattooed arms and that he was not speaking.

Sougou added: "I saw the attacker attempting to run away but people from the mosque held him back," he said. "Some of them wanted to beat him up, but were stopped by the ones that were holding him until the police came."

The Finsbury Park Mosque opened in 1994 and became a hotbed of Islamist militants, including Zacarias Moussaoui, a Frenchman convicted of conspiring to kill Americans as part of the Sept. 11 attacks, and Richard C. Reid, who attempted to down a U.S. jetliner in late 2001 with explosives packed in his shoes. In 2015, the mosque's former imam, Mostafa Kamel Mostafa, was sentenced to life in prison in U.S. District Court in Manhattan on 11 terrorism-related charges.

The mosque was raided by authorities in January 2003, and in February 2005, it was completely reconstituted — "run by a new board of trustees with a new management team, new imams, a new name and new ethos," according to its website. Five stories tall, with enough space for 1,800 worshippers, it is a major house of worship for North London, in an area known for a large immigrant population.

Mohammed Kozbar, chairman of the Finsbury Park Mosque, said in a Twitter post that "our thoughts and prayers with those who got injured and effected by this cowardly attack in Finsbury Park area" and that there were "many casualties in the floor."

The mosque states on its website: "The work of the new management reflects the proper role of a mosque — as a place of worship, religious learning and social interaction. It also presents the true teachings of Islam as a religion of tolerance, cooperation and peaceful harmony amongst all people who lead a life of balance, justice and mutual respect."

On March 22, a 52-year-old Briton rammed a car into a crowd of pedestrians on Westminster Bridge, fatally injuring four of them, and then stabbed a police officer to death before he was gunned down by police.

On June 3, three men drove a van into pedestrians on London Bridge, before launching a knife attack in nearby Borough Market. Eight people were killed before the men were shot to death by police.

Van strikes crowd outside mosque in London; one person is arrested 06/18/17 [Last modified: Monday, June 19, 2017 12:24am]
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