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Top Story

June 20, 2017



One martyred, 10 injured as van crushes Muslims near London mosque

Muslim girl going to mosque killed in US; Theresa May vows to crack down on extremism; Mayor Sadiq Khan says London attack was deliberate and horrific


LONDON: Ten people were injured and a man was also martyred at the scene after a van drove into a crowd of Muslim worshippers near a mosque in London in the early hours of Monday.London Mayor Sadiq Khan called it an "horrific terrorist attack" while Muslim leaders linked the incident to a rise in Islamophobic crime.

Witnesses said a white van struck a gathering of Muslim worshippers who had been attending evening prayers during the holy month of Ramazan and were looking after an elderly man who had collapsed in an unrelated incident. Police said they were first called shortly after midnight. Witness Khalid Amin was quoted as saying by BBC that the driver of the van was shouting: "I want to kill all Muslims."

The incident happened outside the Muslim Welfare House, 100 metres around the corner from the Finsbury Park Mosque. The mosque was once a hub for radical Muslims that has since become a centre for inter-faith outreach. The scene is just metres from the main railway line linking London with Edinburgh, the main Arsenal Football Club shop and what was the Rainbow Theatre, considered the prestige London concert venue in the 1960s and 1970s.

The van's 48-year-old white driver was detained by members of the public and then arrested by police. He was taken to hospital as a precaution to receive a mental health assessment. The attack unfolded as an elderly man was receiving first aid from members of the public. He later died, though it is not yet clear whether his death was linked to the attack, said Neil Basu, the police senior national counter-terror coordinator.

Ten people were hurt, all of them Muslims, with eight requiring hospital treatment. Two were in a very serious condition. Many local Muslim worshippers complained that police did not immediately treat the attack as a terrorist incident, saying the response would have been different if it had been a Muslim's assault. Police issued an initial statement at 01:03am (00:03GMT) saying a vehicle had collided with pedestrians. In a statement at 04:46am they said the incident was being investigated by counter-terrorism police. Some people at the scene also complained that police took too long to arrive. One witness told the BBC he held down the suspect for 20 to 30 minutes before officers appeared.

But the police said they had responded "instantly" as officers were in the immediate vicinity, and that additional officers arrived within 10 minutes. The Muslim Council of Britain umbrella group said it expected increased security "as a matter of urgency". "Over the past weeks and months, Muslims have endured many incidents of Islamophobia and this is the most violent manifestation to date."

Following an Islamist-inspired van-and-knife attack in the London Bridge area on June 3, the city saw a sharp rise in anti-Muslim crimes. On June 6 alone, 20 anti-Muslim incidents were reported, compared with a daily average of 3.5 incidents previously in 2017.

Egypt's Al-Azhar institution, a leading authority of Islam, called it a "racist, sinful act" and urged "Western countries to take all precautionary measures to limit the phenomenon of Islamophobia."

Prime Minister Theresa May held an emergency cabinet meeting on Monday and vowed to crack down on extremism. "There has been far too much tolerance of extremism... including Islamophobia," she said. 

The attack was, she said, "a reminder that terrorism, extremism and hatred take many forms and our determination to tackle them must be the same, whoever is responsible". Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who is the MP for the area, said he was "totally shocked". Mayor Sadiq Khan called it a "deliberate" and "horrific terrorist attack" on "innocent Londoners". 

Meanwhile, in the United States, a 17-year-old Muslim girl was brutally murdered on her way to a Virginia mosque in the early hours of Sunday. A 22-year-old man has been arrested and charged with murder.

Nabra Hassanen and her friends were on their way back to the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) Centre in Sterling, Virginia, after eating breakfast at IHOP at about 3:30am local time, the Washington Post reported, citing the police and ADAMS.

During the last 10 days of the holy month of Ramazan, mosques hold extra prayers at midnight and 2:00am. ADAMS co-chair Shoyeb Hassan told the Post it’s common for members of ADAMS to eat at the nearby IHOP or McDonald’s before sunrise, when the daily fast begins.

At around 4:00am, a man in a car pulled up next to the group as they walked along the road and a dispute erupted. “It appears the man got out of his car and assaulted one of them,” ADAMS said in a statement. “Community members came across the group and directed them to ADAMS Centre.”

The mosque reported Hassanen missing and police began to scour the area, using search and rescue teams, dogs and a helicopter. During the search, a man driving suspiciously was arrested. Darwin Martinez Torres, 22, was later charged with murder.

At about 3:00pm Sunday, a woman’s remains were found in a pond about 2 miles from the mosque. An autopsy will be performed but Fairfax County Police Department said it believes it is Hassanen. A baseball bat was also discovered at the scene. Hassanen’s mother said police told her Nabra had been hit with a metal bat.

Fairfax police confirmed in a tweet Monday morning that they are “not investigating this murder as a hate crime.” There have been a number of hate crimes targeting Muslims in the US. The Council on American-Islamic Affairs found a 57 percent increase in anti-Muslim bias incidents from 2015-2016, and a 44 percent increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes.

In May, two men were fatally stabbed by a man shouting anti-Muslim slurs at two girls on a Portland train after they tried to intervene. “We call on law enforcement to investigate and determine the motive of this crime and prosecute to the full extent of the law,” the ADAMS Centre said in a statement. “We are devastated and heartbroken as our community undergoes and processes this traumatic event. It is a time for us to come together to pray and care for our youth.”