UK imam teaches terrorist a lesson

Assailant caught after ramming van into worshippers, cleric shows mercy

By Amit Roy in London
  • Published 20.06.17
Imam Mahmoud in Finsbury Park. (Reuters)

London, June 19: Another day, another terrorist attack in London, another van ploughs into innocent bystanders.

But this time it was a white man who drove his van into a group of Muslim worshippers who had left the Finsbury Park Mosque in north London in the early hours of this morning after attending Ramazan prayers.

One man, reportedly being attended to by bystanders after he took ill, died after being hit by the vehicle. Ten people were injured. The assailant shouted, according to several witnesses: "I'm going to kill Muslims."

Police tonight named the arrested man as Darren Osborne, 47, from Cardiff, where he had hired his van. He is held on suspicion of attempted murder and alleged terrorism offences.

That no serious harm came to him is attributed to the restraint exercised by the mosque's imam, Mohammed Mahmoud, who was said to have used himself to shield the suspected assailant from the fury of onlookers. "Do not touch him," he told the crowd.

"We found that a group of people quickly started to collect around him... and some tried to hit him either with kicks or punches. By God's grace we managed to surround him and to protect him from any harm," Reuters quoted Mahmoud as telling reporters. "We stopped all forms of attack and abuse towards him that were coming from every angle."

The suspect is reported to have told the injured: "You deserve it." His action is seen widely as an act of retaliation after terrorist acts carried out in Westminster, Manchester and London Bridge by home-grown terrorists.

The attack was swiftly condemned by the entire political leadership in Britain. Ben Wallace, the security minister, was blunt: "This isn't a hate crime. It's an act of terrorism. Simple as that."

Theresa May, who was called "uncaring" for being slow to meet the survivors of the Grenfell Tower blaze in Kensington, was quick today to visit the area, as was the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

The Prime Minister condemned the incident as "every bit as sickening" as the recent atrocities in London and Manchester.

"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," May told reporters outside her Downing Street office. "This was an attack on Muslims near their place of worship."

After meeting faith leaders at the Finsbury Park Mosque today, she said: "The terrible terrorist attack which took place last night was an evil borne out of hatred and it has devastated a community."

She added: "There is no place for this hatred in our country today and we need to work together as one society, one community, to drive it out, this evil which is affecting so many families."

May was accompanied by metropolitan police commissioner Cressida Dick.

Metropolitan police deputy assistant commissioner Neil Basu thanked members of the public who detained the suspect, saying: "Their restraint in the circumstances was commendable."

He added: "Given the methodology and given what was occurring, what's happened, the tragic incidents across the country, this had all the hallmarks of a terrorist incident. That is why the counter-terrorism command was called out to investigate."

Muslim community leaders are calling for all mosques to be protected.

Harun Khan, secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said he expected authorities to step up security at mosques.

"Over the past weeks and months, Muslims have endured many incidents of Islamophobia and this is the most violent manifestation to date," he said.

"Given that we are approaching the end of the month of Ramazan and the celebration of Id with many Muslims going to local mosques, we expect the authorities to increase security outside mosques ."

Kevin Hurley, formerly the head of counter-terrorism at the City of London police, told BBC News: "That's a nice sound bite, but to be quite clear about it, there are more than 500 mosques in London alone, and hundreds and hundreds of Muslim centres, so it is simply not realistic to have officers outside all of them."