Witnesses at London’s Finsbury Park mosque say a man who crashed a van into a crowd of pedestrians on Monday deliberately targeted Muslims.
The attack early on Monday morning left one man dead and at least 10 others wounded.
British Muslim leaders have linked the vehicle attack to Islamophobia and urged Theresa May, UK prime minister, to do more to tackle anti-Muslim rhetoric.
The crash occurred at a time when the multi-ethnic neighbourhood was crowded with Muslim worshippers leaving the Finsbury Park mosque after Ramadan prayers.
READ MORE: Finsbury Park mosque – Man dies as van hits worshippers
Saeed Hashi, a local resident, told Al Jazeera he saw a white van “speeding” into pedestrians soon after he left the mosque. It ran over at least eight people, he said.
“A van speeding very fast came towards us. We thought he was late for work or trying to catch the traffic light before it turned red. Suddenly, he turned towards pedestrians. His first casualty was a woman and three guys. Then he reversed, and carried on. And he hit another five people.”
When the vehicle came to a halt, Hashi said he and others grabbed the driver, wrestled him to the ground and held him down for 15 minutes until police arrived.
The suspect was “angry, and was shouting abusive words”, Hashi said.
“To be honest, I can’t go to the mosque any more. I am afraid for my safety.”
He called for additional security at mosques across the UK.
‘Kill all Muslims’
Khalid Amin told Reuters news agency that the van drove into the crowd without warning, hitting several people, and trapping at least one man underneath as it came to a stop.
The van “turned left with no indication, with no even like suddenly, just deliberately left, and then just hit the people”, Amin said.
“And one of them, he was under the van, people were gathered around the van to actually lift the van up to get this guy up from under the van”.
Amin said that when people seized the driver, “he was shouting: ‘All Muslims, I want to kill all Muslims.’ Literally, he said that. Word by word”.
Witnesses reported seeing two other men inside the van run away, but police are yet to confirm if others were involved in the attack. A 48-year-old man was in custody, police said.
One man who was leaving the mosque when the attack unfolded described panic and horror in the aftermath.
He told Al Jazeera he saw “12-13 people on the ground, men and women” and “a lot of blood, hurt people, a woman screaming, people trying to call the police, trying to catch the driver”.
Video filmed in the immediate aftermath showed a tall Caucasian man being detained by police. Someone in the crowd yelled to others not to harm the man and another is heard shouting: “Why would you do this?”
Athmane, a resident in the area, told Al Jazeera the suspect “was waving for victory, and was smiling” after he was taken into custody.
At the time, “15 people were around [on the ground], screaming, asking for help”.
Heroes and Islamophobia
Tawfiq al-Qasimi, the leader of the Muslim Welfare House, said the imam of the Finsbury Park mosque saved the suspect from “being killed possibly” by an angry crowd.
Describing Imam Mohamed Mahmoud as a “hero”, Qasimi said: “People started hitting him hard and Mohamed took so many punches because he was protecting the guy until the police arrived”.
Qasimi blamed Islamophobia for the attack, saying: “This guy was extreme right wing, trying to kill Muslims because they are Muslims. This is a clear hate crime. We ask the government to do more to protect us Muslims.”
He said: “We’ve been in the area for the past 40 years and we haven’t seen anything like this happen.”
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Other British Muslim leaders also echoed Qasimi’s sense of shock and call for government action.
Mohamed Kozbar, the chairman of the Finsbury Park mosque, said his community was shaken by the attack “because this area is very peaceful. It is diverse, multicultural and people live together without any issues”.
Mohamed Shafiq, who heads the Ramadhan Foundation, describing the attack as a hate crime, said inflammatory rhetoric by some politicians and commentators was to blame.
“The rhetoric of far-right extremists and commentators in the media need to be addressed,” he told Al Jazeera.
“The rampant Islamophobia that we see time and again has to be called out for what it is. Tonight is a consequence of that.”
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies