LONDON: An imam intervened to stop local residents from beating a man accused of driving into people on Monday outside a London mosque after Ramazan prayers, and one official said “his bravery and courage” potentially saved the attacker’s life.
The suspect was yanked from the cab of his van by a furious crowd as he sought to reverse and escape after injuring 10 people in what police said was a deliberate attack on Muslims that was being treated as ‘terrorism’.
The man was being held down, beaten and kicked when Muslim cleric Mohammed Mahmoud stepped in to plead with people just to restrain him until police arrived. “We found that a group of people quickly started to collect around him, around the assailant 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,” Mahmoud said.
“We managed to extinguish any flames of anger or mob rule that might have taken charge,” he told reporters, adding he was acting with “a group of mature brothers”.
The suspect had been shouting earlier “I’ve done my bit”, aid Toufik Kacimi, the chief executive of the nearby Muslim Welfare House community center, who praised the imam’s courage. “[The imam’s] bravery and courage helped calm the immediate situation after the incident and prevented further injuries and potential loss of life,” he said.
If confirmed by authorities as ‘terrorism’, this would be the fourth such attack in Britain since March and the third to involve a vehicle driven at pedestrians. The suspect was described by police as a 48-year-old white man, who was taken into custody.
“I’ve just seen sheer pandemonium. People on the floor screaming. People bleeding. I’ve seen the guy being held on the floor,” Ibn Oman told Reuters at the scene. “[The Imam] did the right thing. He had to stop people.”
The London mayor praised the imam’s actions.
‘Please step back’
Mahmoud called on the incensed worshippers not to commit a sin. “The imam came from the mosque and he said, ‘Listen we are fasting, this is Ramazan, we are not supposed to do these kinds of things so please step back,’” said Mohammed, a 29-year-old cafe owner who was one of three men who held the suspect down, The Guardian reported. “For that reason this guy is still alive today,” he added.
“He tried to run away but we brought him down. He would’ve died because so many people were punching him but the imam came out and said ‘No more punching, let’s keep him down until the police come’,” Abdul, a witness, told the Independent.
Recalling the moments before the attack, he said, “People gather on that part of the street during Ramazan to chat and socialise so it was premeditated. He [suspect] knew what he was doing.”
“He waited until people had come out then drove at the people on the right then swerved to hit people on the left. Someone was lying under his van shouting ‘Help me’. As he was being arrested he was laughing and smiling and shouting things about Muslims. I don’t want to say what but it was but it was the sort of thing that made people want to punch him,” he added.
There were more angry scenes as police arrived and protected the accused man as he was put into a police vehicle. The van had hit people assisting an elderly man who had collapsed, and who later died. It was not clear if he died because of the attack.
The attack comes just over two weeks after three militants drove into pedestrians on London Bridge and stabbed people at nearby restaurants and bars, killing eight. Since then incidents of hate crime have risen, police say.
Another witness who spoke to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme revealed it was not the police that “arrested him — it was the people that came out of the mosque”.
”They’re the ones that grabbed him and managed to hold him down,” Hamza Nimane said. “There were at least 300 people in the mosque praying, and everyone was panicking, everyone was screaming.”
“There was people lying everywhere, basically; I saw at least seven people lying on the floor,” he told the broadcaster. “Some of them even looked dead to me, to be honest, because people were trying to cover them with sheets and stuff.”