Six people were killed and about 40 injured in London on Wednesday after a car ploughed into pedestrians and an attacker stabbed a policeman close to Britain’s parliament.
The dead, in what police called a “marauding terrorist attack,” included the assailant and the policeman he stabbed. The other three victims were among those hit by the car as it sped across Westminster Bridge before crashing into railings just outside parliament. Prime Minister Theresa May condemned the attack as “sick and depraved”.
“The location of this attack was no accident,” she said in a statement outside her 10 Downing Street office late in the evening. “The terrorist chose to strike at the heart of our capital city, where people of all nationalities, religions and cultures come together to celebrate the values of liberty, democracy and freedom of speech.”
Mark Rowley, Britain’s most senior counter-terrorism officer, told reporters the attack started when a car was driven over Westminster Bridge, hitting and injuring members of the public and three police officers.
“A car then crashed near to parliament and at least one man, armed with a knife, continued the attack and tried to enter parliament,” Rowley said. He said the police’s “fast-paced investigation” was working on the assumption that the attack was “Islamist-related terrorism”. Police believed they knew the identity of the attacker but would not provide details at this stage, he said.
It was the deadliest attack in London since four 52 commuters were killed in suicide bombings on the city’s transport system in July 2005, in London’s worst peacetime attack.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said there would be additional police officers on the city streets to keep Londoners and visitors safe. “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. Londoners will never be cowed by terrorism,” he said.
Parliament’s lower House of Commons, which was in session at the time, was suspended and lawmakers were asked to stay inside the building for several hours. May said parliament would convene as normal on Thursday in a sign that the attack would not disrupt life in the capital.
However, a visit by Queen Elizabeth to officially open the new headquarters of London’s police force, which had been planned for Thursday, was postponed “in light of today’s events,” Buckingham Palace said.
It was earlier reported that four people have died, including one police officer and the attacker. Al Arabiya reported police as saying that 20 people were injured, in the attack that took place outside the Houses of Parliament in London on Wednesday. British police shot the suspected attacker after an officer was stabbed in what police said was a “terrorist” incident.
The building in the heart of the British capital was immediately sealed off and MPs and staff ordered to remain inside.
David Lidington, the leader of parliament’s lower House of Commons who is responsible for arranging government business, told MPs: “What I am able to say to the house is there has been a serious incident.
“It seems that a police officer has been stabbed, that the alleged assailant was shot by armed police.
“There are also reports of further violent incidents in the vicinity of the Palace of Westminster,” he said.
He said he could not go into further details until there was confirmation from the police and security authorities.
Prime Minister Theresa May is safe, a statement from her Downing Street office said, and she was seen getting into a car and being driven away from parliament.
It is not clear exactly what happened or how many people were injured, however a Reuters reporter inside the building said medical staff were treating two people inside the gates of the parliamentary estate.
While at least four people were lying on the ground, some bleeding heavily and apparently unconscious near the parliament.
One of the photographs showed a body lying under the wheels of a London bus.
Meanwhile, three French schoolchildren were hurt, French officials said. The three were students aged around 15 or 16 of the Concarneau Lycee in Brittany, western France, according to a report in Le Telegramme regional newspaper.
Lidington said an air ambulance was at the scene to take away casualties.
TV pictures showed traffic halted on the nearby Westminster Bridge and emergency vehicles swarming around. The busy bridge was completely shut off to traffic.
Armed police swarmed to the area which was quickly sealed off to the public.
The incident came on the same day that Belgium was marking a year since its most deadly attack, when 32 people were killed in suicide bombings at Brussels Airport and a metro station.
In July 2005, four British suicide bombers inspired by al-Qaeda attacked London’s transport system during rush hour, killing 52 people.
Two weeks later, there was an attempt to carry out a second wave of attacks.
A spokesman for the House of Commons told AFP:”We can confirm that the sitting has been suspended in the Commons at the moment. We are aware of a security incident that has taken place.”
London’s Metropolitan Police said on Twitter: “We were called at approx 2:40 pm to reports of an incident at Westminster Bridge. Being treated as a firearms incident - police on the scene.
“Officers - including firearms officers - are on scene and dealing with the incident.”
A staff member in parliament, who did not want to be named, told AFP: “I definitely heard shots. I saw someone in dark clothing go down.”
Westminster station on the London Underground train network, which is opposite the Houses of Parliament, was closed over to the incident.