Several people were injured in north London early on Monday when a van rammed into worshipers leaving a mosque, witnesses said, in what British police described as a “major incident”.
The van driver, aged 48, was was arrested by the police after being found detained by members of the public at the scene.
Police said in a statement there were “a number of casualties”, adding that they were called to reports of “a vehicle in collision with pedestrians” at 12:20 am.
British counter-terrorism police have joined regular police officers to help investigate the incident at the mosque.
“We have been informed that a van has run over worshippers as they left Finsbury Park Mosque. Our prayers are with the victims,” the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), an umbrella body, said on Twitter.
Harun Khan, the head of the MCB, said the van had “intentionally” run over people leaving night prayers for the holy month of Ramadan.
“From the window, I started hearing a lot of yelling and screeching, a lot of chaos outside. … Everybody was shouting: ‘A van’s hit people, a van’s hit people’,” one woman who lives opposite the scene told the BBC.
“There was this white van stopped outside Finsbury Park mosque that seemed to have hit people who were coming out after prayers had finished. I didn’t see the attacker himself, although he seems to have been arrested, but I did see the van.”
One witness told it was clear that the attacker at Finsbury Park had deliberately targeted Muslims.
“He tried to kill a lot of people so obviously it’s a terrorist attack. He targeted Muslims this time,” the witness, identified only as Rayan, said.
An AFP reporter could see a helicopter and several emergency vehicles at the scene, which was closed off by a wide police cordon.
Traffic was shut down on a section of Seven Sisters Road, where the incident happened.
“We saw lots of people shouting and lots of people injured,” David Robinson, 41, who arrived just after the accident, told AFP.
MCB deputy head Miqdaad Versi said the incident happened “outside the Muslim Welfare House”, which is on Seven Sisters Road near the mosque.
The London Ambulance Service said: “We have sent a number of ambulance crews, advance paramedics and specialist responses teams to the scene.
“Our priority is to assess the level and nature of injuries and ensure that those most in need are treated first and taken to hospital.” Police described it as a “major incident”.
Prime Minister Theresa May said her thoughts were with those injured in “this terrible incident”. The leader of the opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, said he was “totally shocked”.
Finsbury Park mosque was once a notorious hub for radicals but has entirely changed in recent years under new management.
Its former imam Abu Hamza was jailed for life in New York on terrorism charges in 2015.
He preached there from 1997 to 2003 before being jailed for inciting violence. He was later extradited to the United States.
In 2015, the mosque was one of around 20 that took part in an open day organised by the MB to promote better understanding of Islam following terrorist attacks in Paris.
Despite the change in leadership and new focus on community relations, the mosque reported it had received a string of threatening emails and letters in the wake of the Paris attacks.
“If this attack is confirmed as a deliberate terrorist attack then this should be classed as an act of terrorism,” said Mohammed Shafiq, head of the Ramadhan Foundation community group.
“The British Muslim community requires all decent people to stand with us against this evil violence,” he said, adding that “rampant Islamophobia has been on the rise for a number of years”.
Cage, a Muslim human rights group, said there had been “an epidemic rise in anti-Muslim hate crimes”.
“We urge all to remain calm and do their utmost not to inflame an already volatile and distressing situation,” it said in a statement.
Spike in anti-Muslim crime
Monday’s incident in London follows an attack on June 3 in which three militants wearing fake suicide vests ran over pedestrians and went on a stabbing spree in bars in the London Bridge area.
They killed eight people before being shot dead by police.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said following that attack that there had been a 40-percent increase in racist incidents in the city and a fivefold increase in the number of anti-Muslim incidents.
On his Facebook page, Khan at the time called on Londoners “to pull together, and send a clear message around the world that our city will never be divided by these hideous individuals who seek to harm us and destroy our way of life”.
Britain has seen two other attacks this year.
On March 22, a man drove a rented car into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge in London and stabbed a police officer guarding the British parliament to death before being shot dead.
Five people were killed in the attack.
On May 22, a suicide bomber blew himself up outside a pop concert in Manchester, killing 22 people.