London attack: 7 arrests as police probe attacker’s links

Police investigating the deadliest terror attack in central London in 12 years have arrested seven people and searched six addresses, Britain’s most senior counterterror police officer said Thursday.

Inquiries are continuing in London, Birmingham and other parts of the country, Mark Rowley said.

Rowley revised the number of dead down by one to three. The victims were a police officer protecting Parliament, a woman in her mid-40s and a man in his mid-50s, Rowley said.

The attacker, who rammed a car into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge before attempting to storm the Houses of Parliament, was also shot dead at the scene.

Twenty-nine people were treated in hospital, seven of whom are still in a critical condition, Rowley said. There were also a number of “walking wounded,” he said.

Hundreds of detectives worked through the night, Rowley said, with their investigation focused on the attacker’s motivation, preparation and associates.

“It is still our belief — which continues to be borne out by our investigation — that this attacker acted alone yesterday and was inspired by international terrorism,” he said. “To be explicit, at this stage, we have no specific information about further threats to the public.”

A UK official told CNN the working theory was that the attack was ISIS “inspired or copycat”, but the authorities were “still investigating.” He added, “Values and community cohesion are now most important — this is kind of a test case.”

A candlelit vigil will be held Thursday evening in Trafalgar Square, not far from Westminster, to show solidarity and remember the victims, the office of London Mayor Sadiq Khan said in a statement.

“London is the greatest city in the world. We will never be cowed by terrorism. We stand together, in the face of those who seek to harm us and destroy our way of life. We always have, and we always will,” it said.

Tourists injured

Rowley told journalists late Wednesday that police believe the attack was an act of “Islamist-related terrorism,” and indicated they knew the identity of the assailant but were not releasing his name.

Overnight, police in the city of Birmingham, in central England, raided an apartment, but it was not clear whether it was linked to the London attack. When asked for information, local police referred CNN to London’s Metropolitan Police. The Met told CNN it would not comment for “operational reasons.”

Only one of the victims has been publicly identified. Keith Palmer, a 15-year veteran of the London police force, was fatally stabbed on the grounds of Parliament before police killed his attacker.

A number of tourists were among 40 people hurt in the assault, including five South Koreans and three French high school students, according to officials from both countries. One Australian had been hospitalized, officials there said. A Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman said one Chinese tourist was slightly injured.

It was the first mass-casualty terrorist attack in Britain since 2005, when 52 people and four attackers died in the July 7 bomb attacks on the London public transportation system.

British lawmakers are returning to Parliament Thursday, where many were trapped for hours as the police operation unfolded outside the previous day.

One member of the government, Tobias Ellwood, was lauded a hero after attempting to save the police offer, Keith Palmer, who later died.

How the attack unfolded

The area around Westminster was teeming with people when the attack began at about 2:40 p.m. local time (10.40 a.m. ET) Wednesday. Witnesses said the attacker drove his car along the sidewalk over Westminster Bridge, ramming into pedestrians as he went. The vehicle hit a large number of people, including three police officers.

“The car then crashed near to Parliament and at least one man — armed with a knife — continued the attack, trying to enter Parliament,” Rowley said. One of those who died was a woman, he added.

Parliament was placed on lockdown for several hours and lawmakers were forced to remain in the main debating chamber of the House of Commons.

In the early hours of Thursday, much of Westminster — Britain’s political heart — was still cordoned off by police, with access blocked to Downing Street and police headquarters at Scotland Yard.

Condemnation, condolences

Prime Minister Theresa May described the attack as “sick and depraved.” She said attempts to defeat through violence the values Parliament represents would be “doomed to failure.”

“Tomorrow morning, Parliament will meet as normal. We will come together as normal. And Londoners — and others from around the world who have come here to visit this great City — will get up and go about their day as normal,” she said Wednesday.

“They will board their trains, they will leave their hotels, they will walk these streets, they will live their lives. And we will all move forward together. Never giving in to terror. And never allowing the voices of hate and evil to drive us apart.”

People echoed May’s defiance online, sharing an image of the London Underground logo emblazoned with the words “We are not afraid.”

 

Khan, the mayor, paid tribute to the emergency services and said: “My heart goes out to those who have lost loved ones and to everyone who has been affected.”

He announced extra armed officers would be deployed on the streets of the British capital. However, Rowley said there were no plans for military officers to provide extra protection at this stage.

World leaders expressed their condolences, with US President Donald Trump phoning the British Prime Minister to pledge US support in “responding to the attack.”

“Spoke to U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May today to offer condolences on the terrorist attack in London. She is strong and doing very well,” he tweeted.

In New York, the NYPD stepped up security at “UK sensitive locations,” including the British Consulate in midtown Manhattan, James Waters, the department’s counterterrorism bureau chief said. NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill said that it was routine to step up resources in this way during global terror events.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said security would be increased around the country’s parliament building in Canberra.

He tweeted: “Australia stands in resolute solidarity with the people of Britain in war against terrorism. Our heartfelt sympathies are with the victims.”

Witnesses report chaotic scenes

Robyn Lyon, 34, from Rugby, said he was walking along Westminster Bridge when he saw the car plow through the crowd.

“I saw a car, the crunch of car, hitting the curb. I kind of thought the guy had maybe had a heart attack or something,” he said.

“The accelerator suddenly picked up so you had that revving… It hit several people. I jumped out the way into a road.

“I stood in shock and saw carnage around me and the car carrying on up the bridge.”

Craig Meichan, 20, a student from Ormskirk near Liverpool, was on a field trip with around 15 others and had left Parliament just a moment before.

“It sounded like a car backfiring, police began shouting and they started cordoning off the area,” he told CNN, adding that he believed his tutor was still locked inside.

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Officer killed in London attack was 15-year police veteran

Keith Palmer’s 15-year career as a London police officer was brutally ended Wednesday by a terrorist’s knife.

“He was someone who left for work today expecting to return home at the end of his shift, and he had every right to expect that would happen,” Metropolitan Police Acting Deputy Commissioner Mark Rowley said in an evening press conference.

Palmer, a 48-year-old father, was one of four people killed in Britain’s most lethal terror attack since the 2005 public transit bombings.

The assailant drove a car through crowds of people, injuring dozens before crashing into a fence near London’s Houses of Parliament.

Witnesses said the attacker then got out of his car, brandishing the knife that he used to fatally stab Palmer.

A member of the parliamentary and diplomatic protection command, Palmer was not carrying a gun, said Rowley, Britain’s most senior counterterror police officer.

Rowley added that authorities believe they know the attacker’s identity but are not releasing it, and are operating on the assumption the incident was “Islamist-related terrorism.”

‘A lovely man’

Bystanders rushed to Palmer’s aid as he lay bleeding on the cobblestone street, including Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) Tobias Ellwood. But there was nothing they could do.

“Keith Palmer was killed while bravely doing his duty, protecting our city and the heart of our democracy from those who want to destroy our way of life,” London Mayor Sadiq Khan said.

“He personifies the brave men and women of our police and emergency services who work around the clock to keep us safe — tonight all Londoners are grateful to them.”

At Scotland Yard, headquarters of London’s police force, flags were flying at half-staff on Wednesday evening, in honor of Palmer and the other victims.

His death drew tributes from politicians including Conservative James Cleverly, who said he served with Palmer in the Royal Artillery before he became a “copper.”

“A lovely man, a friend. I’m heartbroken,” Cleverly said on Twitter.

The remaining victims have not been identified, other than that they were described by Rowley as “members of the public.”

French, South Koreans among injured

Three French students, one Australian and a group of South Korean tourists were among those hurt in Wednesday’s attack, which took in a popular location for sightseers.

In total, police said about 40 people had been injured.

The three students were from Saint-Joseph school in Concarneau, in Western France, according to the French Foreign Ministry. They were on a school trip to London. There was no word on the extent of their injuries.

“(Foreign Minister) Jean-Marc Ayrault supports the families of our compatriots concerned in this difficult time,” the statement said.

Five South Korean sightseers were also injured, the country’s foreign ministry said. One man and three women in their 50s and 60s suffered fractures, while another women in her 60s needed surgery after sustaining a serious head injury.

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Trump’s son criticizes London mayor after attack

President’s Trump’s son is criticizing the mayor of London in the immediate aftermath of an attack in the city that killed at least four people on the grounds of the UK Parliament.

Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., manages the Trump Organization and has no role in the White House, but he remains an occasional surrogate for his father. The younger Trump also occasionally calls out the President’s political opponents on Twitter, the venue he chose Wednesday to weigh in on the incident in Britain.

“You have to be kidding me?!” Trump Jr. tweeted, as he shared an article from The Independent, and paraphrased its headline as: “Terror attacks are part of living in big city, says London Mayor Sadiq Khan”

The article, published in September 2016, featured Khan’s reaction to a bombing in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City. In it, Khan said that preparedness for terror attacks is “part and parcel of living in a big city,” and asked Londoners to be correspondingly “vigilant.”

The White House issued a more conciliatory response to the terrorist attack. The President spoke by phone with British prime minister Theresa May, and White House press secretary Sean Spicer said it would be “irresponsible” to speculate this soon on what precisely happened or who was responsible.

Khan and Trump had sharp words for another during the campaign: Khan, who is Muslim, criticized Trump’s immigration ban, and Trump at one point challenged the London mayor to an I.Q. test.

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Vehicles as weapons: London attack is part of a disturbing trend

The attack in London that spurred renewed fears of terrorism started when an ordinary car turned into a devastating weapon.

“It appeared that a car was coming towards the House of Commons mowing down pedestrians on the way, and the driver then got access to the parliamentary estate, stabbed a police officer and was shot,” Member of Parliament Sir Gerald Howarth said.

By the end of Wednesday’s melee, at least four people and the attacker were killed and many more were injured.

Across Europe and around the world, more assailants are using cars and trucks as weapons. Here are some of the most significant recent attacks — and the reasons behind them:

Nice, France

Date of attack: July 14, 2016

Number of casualties: 84 people killed, more than 200 wounded

What happened: Authorities say Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel used a 20-ton truck to strike hundreds of people in Nice, where large crowds gathered to watch Bastille Day fireworks.

After the truck barreled through the crowd for almost a mile, police shot and killed Bouhlel.

Why it happened: ISIS said the attack was retaliation for France’s role in the fight against ISIS.

“The person who carried out the run-over in Nice, France, is one of the Islamic State soldiers and carried out the operation in response to calls to target nationals of the coalition which is fighting the Islamic State,” the terror group said in a statement.

But French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said Bouhlel had no record of making militant statements and was not believed to be a member of ISIS. “It seems he became radicalized very quickly,” Cazeneuve said.

Berlin, Germany

Date of attack: December 19, 2016

Number of casualties: 12 people killed, at least 48 wounded

What happened: A tractor-trailer rammed into a crowd at a bustling Christmas market, which was filled with holiday shoppers. The suspect, Anis Amri, was killed in a shootout with police in Italy.

Why it happened: A video showed Amri pledging allegiance to ISIS, and the ISIS-affiliated Amaq news agency said the attack was carried out by “a soldier of the Islamic State” to target citizens of countries fighting ISIS.

But CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank said ISIS often uses that kind of terminology to refer to attacks by alleged sympathizers in the West.

“This should not be taken to mean the group is claiming it directed this attack,” Cruickshank said.

Ohio, United States

Date of attack: November 28, 2016

Number of casualties: 11 people wounded

What happened: Abdul Razak Ali Artan, an Ohio State University student, rammed his car into a group of pedestrians on the campus. He got out and lunged at passersby with a knife.

Moments later, an Ohio State University Police officer fatally shot Artan after he refused to stop.

Why it happened: Authorities said they believe Artan was inspired by terrorist propaganda from ISIS and deceased Yemeni-American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, two law enforcement sources said.

In a Facebook post shortly before the rampage, the Somali immigrant said he was “sick and tired” of seeing fellow Muslims “killed and tortured,” federal law enforcement officials said.

He urged America “to stop interfering with other countries, especially the Muslim Ummah,” a term for Muslim people at large. “By Allah, we will not let you sleep unless you give peace to the Muslims,” he wrote.

Jerusalem

Date of attack: January 8, 2017

Number of casualties: Four soldiers killed, at least 10 people wounded

What happened: Authorities said 28-year-old Fadi Qunbar plowed into a group of Israeli soldiers on a popular promenade overlooking the walled Old City of Jerusalem.

Why it happened: The driver may have been an ISIS sympathizer, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

“All signs show he is a supporter of the Islamic State,” Netanyahu said in January. “We know there is a sequence of terror attacks, and it’s quite possible that there is a connection between them, from France, Berlin and now Jerusalem.”

Quebec, Canada

Date of attack: October 20, 2014

Number of casualties: One soldier killed, one soldier wounded

What happened: Police said Martin Rouleau Couture used his car to strike two Canadian soldiers walking in a strip mall parking lot in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec. After leading police on a chase, Couture got out of his car and was fatally shot.

Why it happened: Authorities said they believe Couture had been “radicalized.” He was arrested in July 2013, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said.

“When he was arrested, he was about to go to Turkey,” police spokeswoman Martine Fontaine said. “We stopped him as he was about to leave Canada for terrorist actions. He was questioned when he was arrested.”

But authorities lacked enough evidence to keep Couture in custody.

Why the trend of vehicle attacks?

While not all vehicle attacks are linked to terrorism, groups such as ISIS and al Qaeda have called on followers to use trucks as weapons.

In fact, an al Qaeda magazine published an article in 2010 titled “The Ultimate Mowing Machine.”

The article calls for using a pickup truck as a “mowing machine, not to mow grass but mow down the enemies of Allah.”

It said a four-wheel-drive pickup truck is needed — “the stronger the better.”

“To achieve maximum carnage, you need to pick up as much speed as you can while still retaining good control of your vehicle in order to maximize your inertia and be able to strike as many people as possible in your first run,” the article says.

John Miller, deputy commissioner of intelligence for New York police, has said ISIS calls on supporters to use cars as weapons if they have no other means of attack.

“The ISIS call, as well as that of other terrorist groups, has been to use what you have on hand,” Miller said in 2015.

“And that means if you can make a bomb, you’re a bomber. But if you can’t, use a gun. And if you can’t find a gun, use a knife. And if you can’t find a knife, use a car. So when we look at that, that is a broad spectrum of threats, and it’s something to prepare for.”

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