LONDON – British Prime Minister Theresa May has vowed to step up Britain’s fight against Islamist extremism, saying “enough is enough” after the country’s third terrorist attack in three months left seven dead and 48 injured.
On Saturday night, a group of assailants in a van mowed down pedestrians on London Bridge before attacking others with knives in a crowded market nearby. Three attackers were shot dead within eight minutes of the first call to emergency services, the police said on Sunday.
“We cannot and must not pretend that things can continue as they are. Things need to change,” Mrs May said outside Downing Street on Sunday morning. “It is time to say enough is enough.”
The UK prime minister called the threat from radical Islamism “one of the great challenges of our time”, and warned there was “far too much tolerance of extremism in our country”.
In light of the changing threat, she said a review was needed of Britain’s current counter-terrorism strategy to “make sure the police ansd security services have all the powers they need”.
The attack began on London Bridge and ended at Borough Market, a popular restaurant and bar area on the south side of the Thames river.
On Sunday morning the area was still cordoned off and motorists and pedestrians were being turned back as police continued to search buildings. Cressida Dick, Metropolitan Police commissioner, said it was a “complex and confused scene, and a confused series of events”.
The incident comes less than a fortnight after Salman Abedi, a suicide bomber, killed himself and 22 others in an explosion after a concert at the Manchester Arena on May 22.
It also come less than a week before the UK’s general election on Thursday and less than three months after a terrorist attack on Westminster Bridge and the UK parliament.
Apart from the recent attacks, the prime minister said the security services and police had foiled five credible terrorist threats since the Westminster incident.
Election campaigning was suspended on Sunday, for a second time, and Mrs May called a meeting of the Cobra emergency committee. However, the prime minister said on Sunday that the election would be held on June 8 as planned.
Commander Dick said that police had been called at 10.08pm on Satiurday to reports that a vehicle had struck pedestrians on London Bridge. The suspects then left the vehicle in the Borough Market area and stabbed a “number of people”, the Met chief said. The suspects were confronted and shot by police at Borough Market.
“We have witness reports of three people armed with knives and three attackers. And we believe the threat that they posed was neutralised within eight minutes. We don’t believe there is [any attacker outstanding] but we must make absolutely certain.”
Mark Rowley, deputy commissioner of London’s Metropolitan Police, said officers had initially been called to an incident involving a van hitting pedestrians on London Bridge. Witnesses described a van veering at high speed into passers-by.
Mr Rowley said the van continued on to the nearby crowded Borough Market. “The suspects then left the vehicle and a number of people were stabbed, including an on-duty British transport police officer who was responding to the incident at London Bridge,” Mr Rowley said. “He received serious but not life-threatening injuries.
“Armed officers responded very quickly and bravely, confronting three male suspects who were shot and killed in Borough Market,” he confirmed. “The suspects were wearing what looked like explosive vests but these were later established to be hoaxes.”
A third incident, in Vauxhall, that had initially been linked with the first two was subsequently declared unrelated.
The London Ambulance Service said it had taken 48 wounded to five hospitals across London following the incidents, as well as treating a number of people at the scene for less serious injuries.
Loud explosions were heard in the early hours of Sunday morning from the Financial Times’ offices, near Borough Market. Numerous witnesses said they heard gunfire as police responded to news of the attack.
The security operation was carried out amid chaotic scenes as streets throughout south London were filled with speeding police vehicles, ambulances and fire engines. The area immediately around Borough Market was full of confused people who had been evacuated from the scenes of the incidents. Lifeboats helped to transport some people away from the riverside area.
Sadiq Khan, London’s mayor, called the incident a “deliberate and cowardly attack on innocent Londoners and visitors” to the city enjoying their Saturday night.
The attack bears similarities to the incident on March 22, in which Khalid Masood killed five people in Westminster by driving a car down a pavement and then attacking a police officer guarding the Houses of Parliament with a knife.
Will Heaven, managing editor of the Spectator magazine, who was travelling in a private-hire vehicle south over London Bridge just afterwards, said he noticed someone on the ground “in a really bad way”.
“Then we drove a bit further and there was someone on the road on the right side,” he said. The driver had spotted a third injured person before the police stopped the vehicle.
The UK was already on high terrorism alert after the Manchester Arena bombing and the March attack in Westminster. This Thursday’s general election poses its own logistical challenges for the security services.
Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the opposition Labour party, called the incidents in London “brutal and shocking”.
“My thoughts are with the victims and their families,” he wrote. “Thank you to the emergency services.”
US President Donald Trump tweeted soon after the attack that the US was “with the UK”. He went on to use the incident to renew demands for the courts to end their blocking of his travel ban on visitors from several Muslim countries coming to the US.
The White House subsequently issued a statement to confirm that Mr Trump had spoken with Mrs May and offered his condolences for the “brutal terror attacks”. He offered the “full support of the US government in investigating and bringing those responsible for these heinous acts to justice”.