One person is dead and at least 10 others are injured following an attack outside a London mosque just after midnight local time Monday, when a man drove a van into a group of worshippers who had emerged from the building following Ramadan prayers. Was the Finsbury Park incident terrorism? According to The Guardian, British Prime Minister Theresa May explained that police had quickly determined it to be a terrorist attack, and said it was “every bit as sickening” as the other recent attacks that had taken place in the country. In a statement following the attack, May emphasized the need for unity, according to CNN, and said,
This was an attack on Muslims near their place of worship and, like all terrorism in whatever form, it shares the same fundamental goal. It seeks to drive us apart and to break the precious bonds of solidarity and citizenship which we share in this country.
The PM also praised the “extraordinary” Londoners who managed to "bravely" detain a suspect in the case until the police arrived to arrest him. After the incident, witnesses said the man exited the vehicle, and allegedly shouted "I want to kill Muslims, I want to kill Muslims," according to BBC News. The suspect was then pinned to the ground by those in the area, who were able to hold him down until he was arrested.
Witnesses said that the suspect was being hit and punched by angry bystanders, before Imam Mohammed Mahmoud of the Muslim Welfare House told the group not to hurt him, but just to hold him down and make sure he could not get away. One man who had witnessed the attack and who helped detain the suspect told The Guardian that the imam ultimately de-escalated the situation:
The imam came from the mosque and he said, ‘Listen we are fasting, this is Ramadan, we are not supposed to do these kinds of things so please step back. For that reason this guy is still alive today. This is the only reason. If the imam was not there he wouldn’t be here today.
But the suspect reportedly continued to be defiant, even after his arrest. According to BBC News, witnesses also described the suspect as saying, "kill me, I've done my job" while being taken away.
According to BBC News, the threat of violent attacks by "extreme right-wing groups" in the U.K. has been on the rise, and in March, approximately 16 percent of terrorism-related arrests were determined to be "domestic extremism," with Muslims and mosques often being targeted. According to The Guardian, terrorism monitoring organization SITE Intelligence Group said Monday that right-wing extremists have celebrated the attack online, and have referred to it as proof that there is "hope for the British."
On the Facebook page for Britain First, a far-right political party, news of the attack also spawned comments from some who praised the attack, or who argued that it was an example of British people "fighting back for their country."
The truth though, of course, is that the individuals injured at the Finsbury Park mosque were attacked by a violent extremist in a van while they were standing on the sidewalk — as undeserving of being victimized as anyone else who had been targeted by terrorists in the attacks that have occurred in recent months. What's more is that, in the last decade, the Finsbury Park mosque — once known for its ties to extremism under radical Islamic preacher Abu Hamza — has emerged as a symbol of peace and community leadership.
According to The Islington Gazette, the Finsbury Park Mosque earned a Visible Quality Mark from the Charity Commission and Community Matters in 2014, marking only the third time the national award was given to a faith organization. And according to The Guardian, not long before the attack at the mosque Monday morning, Muslim charity Human Appeal announced during its live telethon for Grenfell Tower fire victims that members of the mosque had raised £3,500 toward helping those affected by the blaze.