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Several injured when vehicle rams people leaving London mosque: witnesses

Several people were injured in north London early on Monday when a van rammed into worshippers leaving a mosque, witnesses said, in what British police described as a “major incident”.

Police officers attend to the scene after a vehicle collided with pedestrians near a mosque in the Finsbury Park neighborhood of North London, Britain June 19, 2017. REUTERS/Neil Hall

The Muslim Council of Britain said the vehicle hit people as they were leaving the Finsbury Park Mosque, one of Britain’s largest. The attack comes during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, when people attend prayers at night.

Two worshippers were feared killed, according to the Sun newspaper, but there was no immediate confirmation of this.

Police said they were called just after 12:20 a.m. (2320 GMT Sunday) to reports of a collision on Seven Sisters Road, which runs through the Finsbury Park area of the city. They said there were a number of casualties and one person had been arrested.

“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.”

A man leapt out of the van and stabbed at least one person, the Evening Standard newspaper said, citing witnesses. Reuters could not immediately confirm that report.

The incident follows a series of attacks in Britain in recent months blamed on Islamist militants, the latest just over two weeks ago in which three men drove into pedestrians on London Bridge and stabbed people at nearby restaurants and bars, killing eight..

One witness told CNN 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.

Other witnesses told Sky television that the van had hit at least 10 people.

‘DELIBERATELY SWERVED’

Miqdaad Versi, assistant secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said the van had deliberately swerved into a group of people who were helping a man who was ill and had fallen to the ground.

“A number of passers-by, or friends, or people who had come by from the mosque, were gathering around him to help take him to his family, take him to his house,” Versi told Reuters.

“At that moment in time, basically a van swerved into them deliberately,” he said, citing a witness at the scene.

He said the driver had run out of the van but a group of people caught him and held him until police arrived.

A Reuters witness saw at least one person being loaded into an ambulance. Armed police, ambulances and the fire service were in attendance.

The incident comes at a time of political turmoil in Britain, as Prime Minister Theresa May plunges into divorce talks with the European Union weakened by the loss of her parliamentary majority in a June 8 election.

It also follows a series of attacks, including the van-and-knife attack on London Bridge on June 3.

On March 22, a man drove a rented car into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge in London and stabbed a policeman to death before being shot dead. His attack killed five people.

On May 22, a suicide bomber killed 22 people at a concert by American pop singer Ariana Grande in Manchester in northern England.

The Finsbury Park Mosque gained notoriety more than a decade ago for sermons by radical cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri, who was sentenced to life in a U.S. prison in January 2015 for his conviction on terrorism-related charges.

A new board of trustees and management took over in February 2005, a year after Abu Hamza was arrested by British police, since when attendance has greatly increased among worshippers from various communities, according to the mosque’s website.

(Additional reporting by Will James, Dylan Martinez; Writing by Guy Faulconbridge and Nick Tattersall; Editing by Peter Cooney, Robert Birsel)

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