British Muslims, French police are latest targets
The rash of deadly terror attacks that has rattled Britain in recent months took an ominous new turn on Monday as Muslim worshippers became targets during the holy month of Ramadan, mowed down by an attacker who plowed a van into a crowd leaving prayers at two mosques in north London.
It was the same tactic Islamic extremists used in recent assaults on Westminster Bridge and London Bridge. Those attacks and a third outside a pop concert in Manchester have triggered a surge in hate crimes against Muslims around Britain.
British authorities, including Prime Minister Theresa May, and Islamic leaders moved swiftly to ease concerns in the Muslim community following the attack shortly after midnight that injured at least nine people in London’s Finsbury Park neighborhood, which is home to a large Muslim population.
Authorities said the incident was being treated as a terror attack. One man died at the scene, although he was receiving first aid at the time and it wasn’t clear if he died as a result of the attack or from something else.
British media identified the suspect as Darren Osborne, a 47-year-old Briton and father of four living in Cardiff, Wales, who was not known to authorities before the attack.
Details about the assailant were sketchy, but the assault — the most dramatic against Muslims in London in recent years — suggested a new, dangerous level of polarization in British society.
“This was an attack on Muslims near their place of worship,” May said in a televised address. “And like all terrorism, in whatever form, it shares the same fundamental goal. It seeks to drive us apart — and to break the precious bonds of solidarity and citizenship that we share in this country. We will not let this happen.”
Mayor Sadiq Khan, London’s first Muslim mayor, also urged residents to stand together.
“While this appears to be an attack on a particular community, like the terrible attacks in Manchester, Westminster and London Bridge, it is also an assault on all our shared values of tolerance, freedom and respect,” Khan said, adding that there would be “zero tolerance” for hate crimes.
The attack occurred about 12:20 a.m. when a speeding white van swerved into worshippers emerging from prayers outside the Muslim Welfare House and nearby Finsbury Park Mosque. People surrounded the driver and witnesses said the outraged crowd began attacking him. A local imam, Mohammed Mahmoud, said he and others shielded the man until police could take him away.
“By God’s grace, we were able to protect him from harm,” the imam said.
Police said the driver was arrested on suspicion of the commission, preparation or instigation of terrorism, including murder and attempted murder.
Britain’s terror alert level is at “severe,” meaning security officials believe an attack is highly likely.
In France Monday, a man on the radar of French authorities for extremism was killed after ramming a car carrying arms and explosives into a police convoy on Paris’ famed Champs-Elysees Avenue, setting off a fiery blast and a cloud of orange smoke, officials said. France’s anti-terrorism prosecutor opened an investigation.
Gendarmes jumped out of the vehicle, ran to the car, smashed its windows and pulled out the driver in an apparent attempt to save him, according to witness accounts. The interior minister confirmed that he died.
No one else was injured despite the crowds of tourists and others walking down the avenue on a hot, sunny day, the Paris police department said.
Interior Minister Gerard Collomb called it an “attempted attack” and said it “shows once again that the threat level in France is extremely high.” The minister used the occasion to explain the continued need for a state of emergency, in place since 2015, and plans to extend it until Nov. 1, to be presented at a Cabinet meeting Wednesday.
A man could be seen lying on his stomach on the ground immediately after the incident, wearing a white shirt and dark shorts. The body was kept out of view under a tent, and later police were seen removing it, in a body bag on a stretcher.
If confirmed as a deliberate attack, this would be the fifth time this year that police forces have been targeted around the French capital.