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A 47-year-old man has been charged with “terrorism offences” following an attack with a van on Muslims in north London, UK police have said.
The driver slammed the vehicle into worshippers shortly after midnight on Monday as they left late-night prayers at the Muslim Welfare House and the nearby Finsbury Park Mosque, one of the biggest in Britain.
A man, who had earlier suffered a heart attack, died at the scene on Seven Sisters Road, but it was not immediately clear if he was killed by the attacker’s actions. Eight people were taken to hospital.
The Metropolitan police said the driver was initially arrested on suspicion of attempted murder, but he was later charged with the “commission, preparation or instigation of terrorism including murder and attempted murder”.
“At this stage in the investigation, it is believed that the suspect acted alone but we are, of course, investigating all the circumstances leading up to the attack,” the force said in a statement.
The attacker was not named by police. British media identified him as Darren Osborne, a white man who lived in the Welsh capital, Cardiff.
Police said all the victims were from the Muslim community and extra patrols would be deployed to reassure the public, especially those observing Ramadan.
‘Kill many Muslims’
The use of a vehicle to mow down pedestrians drew parallels with a deadly attack on London Bridge earlier this month.
In that incident, three men drove a van into pedestrians before embarking on a stabbing spree, in an attack claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group.
In March, London was hit with another ISIL-claimed car and knife attack, that one near the British Parliament in Westminster.
This time the attacker deliberately targeted Muslims, police said.
“More victims of a vehicle that leaves the road aimed as a weapon to kill and maim. But this time, the driver didn’t get away, he didn’t get shot, nor did he have any apparent intent to kill himself,” Al Jazeera’s Andrew Simmons, reporting from Finsbury Park, said.
The driver was grabbed at the scene by some of the Muslim worshippers and pinned down until police arrived, while others did what they could to help the wounded.
After being seized, the suspect said he had wanted to kill “many Muslim people,” one witness told journalists.
“Over the past weeks and months, Muslims have endured many incidents of Islamophobia and this is the most violent manifestation to date,” said Harun Khan, head of the Muslim Council of Britain, an umbrella body.
Mohammed Kozbar, chairman of the Finsbury Park Mosque, described the attack as “cowardly”.
“Our community is in shock,” he said, urging people attending prayers to remain vigilant.
‘Not an isolated incident’
UK Prime Minister Theresa May condemned Monday’s attack as “sickening”, saying Britain’s determination to fight “terrorism, extremism and hatred … must be the same, whoever is responsible”.
“This was an attack on Muslims near their place of worship,” said May who later visited the mosque.
Human rights lawyer Arsalan Iftikhar said it was “about time” that authorities called such attacks against Muslims “acts of terrorism”.
“For so many years, there have been coordinated attacks against Muslims, Arabs and South Asians all across the West that were never called ‘acts of terrorism’. So finally, for the first time ever, I’ve seen this double standard been lifted,” he told Al Jazeera from Washington, DC.
“It’s important to keep in mind that what we saw in London at the Finsbury Park Mosque is not an isolated incident,” he added.
In the days after the London Bridge attack, authorities reported a 40-percent increase in racist incidents in the capital and a five-fold increase in anti-Muslim incidents across Britain.
This month alone, a Muslim woman wearing a headscarf told police in Lancashire her car was struck by a bag of vomit. Worshippers at the Omar Faruque mosque in Cambridge found strips of ham attached to their vehicles. Several Muslim families have reported receiving letters warning, “You are no longer welcome in this country.” Scores say they have been spat on.
According to the American-Islamic Relations Council, there has been a 57 percent rise in what it calls “anti-Muslim bias incidents” since 2015.
“It’s about high time that these acts of terrorism are called ‘terrorism’, and not only called ‘terrorism’ when Muslims are the perpetrators,” Iftikhar said.
“The majority of the population [in the West] doesn’t want to see criminal acts of mass murder committed by people who look like them to be labeled ‘acts of terrorism’ – they are very quick to label ‘acts of terrorism’ against people who are olive-skinned, with ethnic-sounding names,” he added.
“This is something that Muslim public intellectuals, thought leaders, activists and religious scholars have been talking about since the 9/11 [attacks in New York].
“The term ‘terrorism’, sadly, in our western sociopolitical zeitgeist has been coopted to only apply when brown Muslim men commit acts of mass murder, and not when right-wing, white supremacists terrorists do the same.”