U.K. police named the man who stabbed two people to death in London on Friday in what the authorities called a terrorist attack as 28-year-old Usman Khan, who had been previously convicted of terrorism offences and released from prison last year.
“This individual was known to authorities, having been convicted in 2012 for terrorism offences,” said U.K.’s top counter-terrorism police officer Neil Basu in a statement.
“He was released from prison in December 2018 on licence and clearly, a key line of enquiry now is to establish how he came to carry out this attack.”
This is a breaking update. A previous version of the story can be seen below.
A man wearing a fake explosive vest stabbed several people Friday in London, killing two, before being tackled by members of the public and then fatally shot by officers on London Bridge, officials said. Police are treating the incident as a terrorist attack.
Metropolitan Police Chief Cressida Dick said two stabbing victims had died and three injured people were being treated in hospitals. Health officials said one of the injured was in critical but stable condition, one was stable and the third had less serious injuries.
Dick said police were working “at full tilt” to determine whether anyone else was involved in the attack. She would not say whether the suspect was known to police, noting it was “a very fast moving, dynamic investigation; we will keep you updated.”
The violence erupted two and a half years after a van and knife attack in the same area killed eight people and less than two weeks before Britain holds a national election. The main political parties temporarily suspended campaigning in London as a mark of respect.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that “to the best of our knowledge, the incident has been contained” but that details were still emerging.
Johnson’s office said the prime minister would chair a meeting of the government’s emergency committee, COBRA, later Friday evening.
Metropolitan Police counterterrorism chief Neil Basu said the suspect appeared to be wearing a bomb vest but it turned out to be “a hoax explosive device.”
Basu said officers were keeping “an open mind as to any motive.”
‘Breathtaking heroism’ from civilians
Dick, the police chief, said officers were called just before 2 p.m. local time to Fishmongers’ Hall, a conference venue at the north end of London Bridge. The pedestrian and vehicle bridge links the city’s business district with the south bank of the River Thames.
Cambridge-based prison-education organization Learning Together was holding an event there Friday, and the University of Cambridge said it was “gravely concerned” about students, staff and alumni who might have been caught up in the attack.
Minutes after the report of the stabbings, witnesses saw a man with a knife being wrestled to the ground by members of the public on the bridge before armed-response officers shot him dead.
One video posted on social media showed two men struggling on the bridge before police pulled a man in civilian clothes off a black-clad man on the ground. Gunshots followed. Another depicted a man in suit and overcoat holding a long knife that apparently had been taken from the attacker.
Watch: Man with knife wrestled to the ground (WARNING: Graphic content)
Other images showed police, guns drawn, pointing at a figure on the ground in the distance.
Karen Bosch, who was on a bus crossing the bridge, said she saw police “wrestling with one tall, bearded man” and then heard “gunshots, two loud pops.”
She said the man “pulled his coat back which showed that he had some sort of vest underneath, whether it’s a stab vest, or some sort of explosive vest. The police then really quickly moved backwards away.”
Another bus passenger, Amanda Hunter, told the BBC that the vehicle “all of a sudden stopped and there was commotion and I looked out the window and I just saw these three police officers going over to a man.”
“It seemed like there was something in his hand, I’m not 100 per cent sure, but then one of the police officers shot him.”
Rob Underwood told CBC Radio’s As it Happens he and his wife were eating at nearby Borough Market when chaos ensued.
“One minute you’re sitting there in a very, very packed eating area … the next minute it was almost empty,” he recalled. “People were just diving for cover under tables, and there were armed police saying, ‘Just get out.’
“It was very scary.”
Police confirmed that the man died at the scene.
The mayor praised the “breathtaking heroism of members of the public who literally ran towards danger not knowing what confronted them.”
“They are the best of us,” Sadiq Khan said
The prime minister also praised the bystanders, and said anyone who was involved in the attack “will be hunted down and will be brought to justice.”
‘We will not be cowed by those who threaten us’
Cars and buses on the busy bridge stood abandoned after the shooting, with a white truck stopped diagonally across the lanes. Video footage showed police pointing guns at the truck before moving to check its container.
London Bridge station, one of the city’s busiest rail hubs, was closed for several hours after the attack.
Scores of police, some armed with submachine guns, ushered office workers and tourists out of the area packed with office buildings, banks, restaurants and bars. Staff in nearby office blocks were told to stay inside.
As police cleared the streets, staff in shops and restaurants ushered customers into storerooms and basements. Some had been through similar traumatic events in June 2017, when eight people died in the van and knife attack launched by three people inspired by the Islamic State group. The attackers ran down people on the bridge, killing two, before fatally stabbing several people in nearby Borough Market.
That fatal attack took place days before a general election. Brits are due to go to the polls again on Dec. 12.
Political leaders expressed shock and sorrow at Friday’s attack.
“We will not be cowed by those who threaten us,” Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn said. “We must and we will stand together to reject hatred and division.”
Both Labour and the Conservatives suspended campaigning in the city after the attack and the prime minister was also cancelling political events for Saturday.
Security officials earlier this month downgraded Britain’s terrorism threat level from “severe” to “substantial,” which means an attack is seen as “likely” rather than “highly likely.” The assessment was made by the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre, an independent expert body that evaluates intelligence, terrorist capability and intentions.
The U.K.’s terror threat was last listed as “substantial” in August 2014; since then it has held steady at “severe,” briefly rising to “critical” in May and September 2017.