Aldo Saadi had just finished praying at his mosque in North London around midnight Sunday when he heard screams and cries for help.
A man driving a van had run into a crowd of worshipers who had also just ended Ramadan prayers and were walking along the street near the Muslim Welfare House, which is about a block from the Finsbury Mosque. Witnesses said that after hitting about a dozen people on the sidewalk, the man turned the van into a dead-end street and was forced to stop. As he tried to get out and run away, a group of people surrounded him. They held him until police arrived a few minutes later.
One person has died and at least 10 were injured. Police said the attack unfolded while an elderly man was receiving first aid from the public after collapsing on the street. That man has died and police said it was unclear if his death was related to the attack. A 48-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of attempted murder.
“I saw police coming and a helicopter and people running,” said Mr. Saadi who is a chef but doesn’t work during Ramadan in order to focus on the daily fasting. “People were screaming.”
He added that the attack was particularly hurtful because it occurred during the last 10 days of Ramadan, which are considered the holiest. The mosques in the area were full of worshipers who had gathered to share an evening meal and pray.
Another worshipper called Athmane said he saw the van moving very fast up the road, deliberately targeting people. “He knew the target, the time and the place,” said Mr. Athmane. “The target, obviously, was the mosque.”
Mr. Athmane said he went to help one man who had been run over and then watched as a group surrounded the driver of the van. “As soon as he opened the door people jumped on him to get him out,” he said adding that a police van quickly arrived. As police led the man away, Mr. Athmane said he smiled and waved. “He was happy, smiling, giving victory signs. He was waving a goodbye to us. This is a proper criminal… He was enjoying what he’d done.”
Other witnesses have said that the man shouted: “I want to kill all Muslims” as he was held by the group.
Mohammed Mahmoud, an imam at the Muslim Welfare House, recalled the tense moments after the crowd took hold of the attacker.
"As they pinned him to the ground one of the imams said 'What's wrong with you, why did you do this'? " Mr Mahmoud recalled. That infuriated the mob who were ready to beat him up, he added. But Mr. Mahmoud managed to calm down the crowd. "I just told the people there's no point hurting him. We'll let the police deal with him and the courts deal with him."
Prime Minister Theresa May called a meeting of her security officials on Monday morning and labeled the attack sickening.
“This morning, our country woke to news of another terrorist attack on the streets of our capital city: the second this month and every bit as sickening as those which have come before,” she said outside 10 Downing Street. “It was an attack that 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. 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.”
This is the fourth terrorist incident in the last four months in Britain, and the third in London. It also comes just a week after a fire in a west London social housing project killed 79 people.
Ms. May has struggled to cope with the wave of terrorist attacks and the fire. And she has yet to form a government after a disastrous election campaign this month that left her Conservatives short of a majority in the House of Commons. And amid all of that Brexit negotiations with the European Union began Monday amid more uncertainty over the government’s strategy.
“We need more leadership from the authorities,” said Yousif Al-Khoei of the Al-Khoei Islamic Foundation in London. “It’s very sad that this peaceful country is becoming a subject of hate mongers. They feed into each other, on both side…We need to break the circle.”
Added Shiraz Kothia, who lives in the area which is among the most multicultural in London: “I’m shocked, devastated but not surprised. There is a lot of negative propaganda against the Muslim community and because of that negative propaganda somebody has taken action…The majority now need to pull together and say enough is enough.” He pointed out the similarity between this attack and two others on London Bridge and outside Westminster Palace. All three involved men driving vans into crowds of pedestrians.
“People, they are scared,” said Ferhat Laichoui who worships at the Finsbury Mosque. “All this started before election and after the election. We need to protect people.”