Heavily armed police fanned out across central and east London Sunday, after what the U.K. prime minister called a “brutal terrorist attack,” when men using a van and knives killed seven people and injured 48 others.
Prime Minister Theresa May said all three of the attackers, who were shot and killed by police, were wearing what appeared to be explosive vests as they targeted pedestrians in Borough Market and the streets outside London Bridge train station Saturday night.
“But police have established that this clothing was fake and worn only to spread panic and fear,” May said in a televised address after the third such attack in the U.K. in less than three months. May called for tougher measures to fight Islamist extremism. She said “terrorism breeds terrorism” and that attackers copy one another.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the latest attack. However, the group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) had sent out a call on instant messaging service Telegram early on Saturday urging its followers to launch attacks with trucks, knives and guns against ”Crusaders” during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Raids by counterterrorism officers on an apartment building in the Barking borough of east London have resulted in 12 arrests. U.K. media reported loud bangs at the scene Sunday morning thought to be controlled explosions.
May said Britain’s parliamentary election will go ahead on Thursday, but her Conservatives and the main opposition Labour Party, along with the Scottish National Party, suspended campaigning on Sunday out of respect for the victims.
The right-wing UK Independence Party said it would continue its campaign. Party chief Paul Nuttall said a second disruption to the campaign similar to the one that followed the Manchester attack last month is “precisely what the extremists would want us to do.”
‘We don’t yet know the full details, but this was a deliberate and cowardly attack on innocent Londoners and visitors. I condemn it in the strongest possible terms. There is no justification whatsoever for such barbaric acts.’- Sadiq Khan, London mayor
London Mayor Sadiq Khan described the male assailants as cowardly and said some of those injured in the attacks are in “critical” condition.
“There are no words to describe the grief and anger that our city is feeling today,” he said.
“I’m appalled and furious that these twisted and cowardly terrorists deliberately targeted innocent Londoners and visitors to our city, who were just enjoying their Saturday night. I condemn these terrorists in the strongest possible terms.”
‘Remain calm and vigilant’
Khan urged “all Londoners and visitors to remain calm and vigilant as the investigation continues.”
At least 7 dead and 48 wounded in terror attack and Mayor of London says there is “no reason to be alarmed!”
U.S. President Donald Trump responded to the attacks with a tweet that promoted his controversial travel ban as “an extra level of safety.” He also mocked Khan’s response, in particular the London mayor’s attempt to calm residents, with Trump criticizing “political correctness.”
A spokesman for Khan said in a statement the mayor has “more important things to do than respond to Donald Trump’s ill-informed tweet that deliberately takes out of context his remarks.”
French President Emmanuel Macron says four French citizens are among the wounded and one of them is in serious condition. In a statement Sunday denouncing the “abominable and cowardly” attack, Macron said France will continue fighting “terrorism with all our strength alongside Britain and all other countries concerned.”
Canadian ‘impacted’ by attack
“We have been advised that a Canadian citizen was directly impacted by the attack in London last night,” the High Commision of Canada in Britain has announced on Twitter. “Consular officials continue to monitor the situation and offer support.”
Canadian diplomats in England are advising Canadians to avoid the area around London Bridge.
Canada’s senior diplomat in London said staff at the Canadian High Commission are monitoring the situation.
High Commissioner Janice Charette said people should stay away from London Bridge and Borough Market until the areas are deemed safe.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, speaking in Ottawa on Saturday at the annual parliamentary press gallery dinner, said, “Canadians stand united in sending our love and support to our friends in London.” A couple of hours earlier, he tweeted: “Awful news from London tonight. We’re monitoring the situation.”
Conservative leader Andrew Scheer tweeted that he was “horrified by the events in London” and that Canada would always stand with the people of London.
The Canadian High Commission urged Canadians in need to call 00 800 2326 6831 or email email@example.com.
The assault began when a van veered off the road and barrelled into pedestrians on London Bridge. Witnesses say three men fled the van with large knives and attacked people at bars and restaurants in nearby Borough Market.
The Metropolitan Police force declared the attacks “terrorist incidents.” Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley says, while they believe all the attackers were killed, the investigation continues.
“We believe three people were involved, but we still have got some more inquiries to do to be 100 per cent confident in that,” he said.
“The terrorists were confronted and shot by armed officers within eight minutes of police receiving the first emergency call,” the prime minister said.
‘They were stabbing everyone’
The violence turned a summery night in an area packed with revellers into a scene of panic and chaos, with officers running through crowded streets screaming for people to flee. Lifeboats on the River Thames helped evacuate the area.
As dawn broke over the capital, a large area on the south bank of the River Thames remained cordoned off. Police told people to avoid the area, leaving tourists and revellers struggling to get home.
Only hours before, bursts of gunfire echoed through the streets — likely from armed police — and at least three blasts rang out as officers performed controlled explosions. One image taken by a witness showed a man on the ground surrounded by police; he appeared to be wearing a vest with canisters attached to it.
One witness, Gerard Vowls, told the Guardian newspaper that he saw a woman being stabbed by three men at the south end of London Bridge. He said he threw chairs, glasses and bottles at the attackers in a bid to stop them.
“They kept coming to try to stab me. They were stabbing everyone. Evil, evil people,” he told the newspaper. “I want to know if this girl is still alive. I’ve been walking around for an hour and a half crying my eyes out. I don’t know what to do.”
Bartender Alex Martinez said he hid in a garbage bin for half an hour when a man stormed the nearly full restaurant where he worked.
“I saw that man with a knife in his hand and after that, a man started screaming, so I knew something wrong was happening,” he said.
Officer stabbed in face, journalist in neck
Among the injured is an officer who was armed only with his baton when he confronted the three assailants, said British Transport Police Const. Paul Crowther.
The officer, who was stabbed in the face, head and a leg, was one of the first responders. He is in stable condition, Crowther said.
Geoff Ho, a business editor with the Sunday Express, is in intensive care after being stabbed at Southwark Tavern.
Simon Thompson told Sky News he was just outside Borough Market when he saw crowds fleeing.
“We ran for like 100 metres and then saw loads of police cars turned up, and there was kind of a period of quite intense gunfire,” he said. “I hid in a restaurant basement for about an hour. … Police told us to get out and then there was more gunfire.”
Just after 9 p.m. local time, police responded to reports of a vehicle travelling at 80 km/hr and hitting pedestrians on London Bridge, which crosses the River Thames.
Soon after, reports started coming in of stabbings at Borough Market, a nearby area full of bars and restaurants surrounding a popular food market.
Awful news from London tonight. We’re monitoring the situation – Canadians in need of help please see below: https://t.co/NVHwMlD2uu
The attackers “had no clue what they were doing. They were scared. The police were scared,” he said.
“They were just running around,” said 25-year-old Gabriele Sciotto, the photographer who took a photo of one of the assailants lying on the ground, wearing what appeared to be canisters strapped to his chest.
Police initially said officers were also responding to a third incident, in the Vauxhall neighbourhood, but later said that turned out to be an unrelated stabbing.
As thousands of people flooded from the area of the attacks — many unable to get home with nearby subway stations shut — local people were quick to offer assistance.
The Royal Oak pub, near the area of the attacks, opened its doors to people evacuated from hotels. At least one taxi company offered free rides to people stranded in the area. Phaldip Singh, who describes himself as an entrepreneur and youth activist, tweeted that Sikh temples were open to provide food and shelter for those affected.
This was the third attack of its kind to hit Britain in as many months.
In March, a British convert to Islam ran down people with a vehicle on Westminster Bridge, killing four, then stabbed a policeman to death outside Parliament.
On May 22, a British suicide bomber killed 22 people and wounded dozens at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester. After that attack, Britain’s official threat level from terrorism was raised to “critical,” meaning an attack may be imminent. Several days later it was lowered to “severe,” meaning an attack is highly likely.
A charity concert for victims of the Manchester attack, featuring Grande and other stars, will go on “with greater purpose” in the northwest English city on Sunday, Grande’s manager Scooter Braun said Sunday morning.
Grande, who visited Manchester victims in the hospital on Friday, reacted to the latest attack with a tweet that said, ”Praying for London.”