By Aditi Khanna
London, Jun 4 (PTI) Three knife-wielding attackers wearing fake suicide vests unleashed a terror rampage through central London, plowing a high-speed van into pedestrians on the iconic London Bridge before stabbing revellers in a nearby market, killing seven people and injuring 48.
In the attack, just days before the general election on June 8, a white van veered off the road and barreled into pedestrians on busy London Bridge last night at around 10 pm local time.
Three men then fled the van wielding large knives and attacked people indiscriminately at bars and restaurants in nearby Borough Market shouting “This is for Allah”, witnesses said.
Seven people were killed in the attack, and at least 48 were taken to hospital, the Metropolitan police said.
The attack unfolded quickly as armed police rushed to the scene and within eight minutes shot dead the three male attackers who were wearing what looked like explosives which later turned out to be fake.
“Armed officers responded very quickly and bravely, confronting three male suspects who were shot and killed in Borough Market. The suspects had been confronted and shot by the police within eight minutes of the first call.
“The suspects were wearing what looked like explosive vests but these were later established to be hoaxes, said Mark Rowley, Met Police Assistant Commissioner and the UK s anti-terrorism lead.
“We are treating this as a terrorist incident and a full investigation is already underway, led by the Met’s Counter Terrorism Command, he said, urging people with information and images to contact the police.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the latest attack to hit Britain.
Several gunshots were heard in the area and the British Transport Police said one of its officers was seriously injured and hospitalised with non-life-threatening injuries after being stabbed as he responded to the incident.
The area that came under attack last night is one of the London s most popular hangout areas for a weekend with bars, restaurants and clubs.
Hundreds of people were sent into panic as they were advised by police to run, tell, hide – the standard Met Police anti-terror advice – as the attackers stabbed people indiscriminately on the streets and in bars and restaurants.
The area has been cordoned off for investigations, led by the Met Police s Counter Terrorism Command, working with British Transport Police, City of London Police, the London Ambulance Service and the London Fire Brigade.
“We are reviewing and planning to strengthen our policing stance across London over the forthcoming days, and there will be additional police and officers deployed across the capital,” Rowley said, calling on the public to remain vigilant.
Prime Minister Theresa May described the incidents as “dreadful events” and today chaired a meeting of the government’s Cobra emergency committee.
She said in a statement: “Following updates from police and security officials, I can confirm that the terrible incident in London is being treated as a potential act of terrorism.
“This is a fast moving investigation. I want to express my huge gratitude to the police and emergency services who are on the scene. Our thoughts are with those who are caught up in these dreadful events.
The flag at Downing Street is flying at half-mast as a mark of respect to the victims of the attack and the ruling Conservative party has announced that it has suspended its national election campaign for Sunday, with plans to review during the course of the day.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan called it “a deliberate and cowardly attack on innocent Londoners”.
“We will never let the terrorists win or cower our citizens,” he said.
The Indian High Commission in London has set up a Public Response Unit for any Indians caught up in the attack.
“Any Indians injured/affected during the London Bridge major incident and at Borough Market may reach off-office hours Public Response Unit. We shall endeavour to extend all possible assistance to all affected and to their families and friends in this difficult hour,” an Indian High Commission statement said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemned the attacks in London, terming them as “shocking”.
“Attacks in London are shocking & anguishing. We condemn them. My thoughts are with families of the deceased & prayers with the injured,” the Prime Minister said in a tweet.
The latest terror attack, just four days before the general election on June 8, comes less than two weeks after a suicide bomber, Salman Abedi, targeted a Manchester concert on May 22, killing 22 people.
The Manchester attack stopped election campaigning for three days as troops were deployed to the streets and the UK s terror threat level was raised to “critical”, meaning an attack was “imminent”.
Britain’s terror threat was lowered back to “severe”, which meant that an attack was highly likely.
It is the third terrorist attack in the UK this year, with the last attack in London in March when terror suspect Khalid Masood rammed a car into pedestrians near the UK Parliament, killing five people, including a police officer on guard being stabbed before being shot dead.
Jeremy Corbyn, the Opposition Labour leader, tweeted on Sunday night: “Brutal and shocking incidents reported in London. My thoughts are with the victims and their families.
Thank you to the emergency services.”
Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat leader, said: “Tonight’s horrific incidents in London remind us how much we owe our emergency services. My thoughts and prayers with everyone affected.”
Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish First Minister and SNP leader, wrote on Twitter: “Dreadful news from London. My thoughts are with all those affected.