THE attacker who killed three people near the parliament before being shot dead was British-born and was once investigated by MI5 intelligence agents over concerns about violent extremism, Prime Minister Theresa May said today (March 23).
Daesh (the Islamic State group) claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement issued by its Amaq news agency. But it gave no name or other details and it was not clear whether the attacker was directly connected to the group.
Police arrested eight people at six locations in London and Birmingham in the investigation into Wednesday’s (March 22) lone-wolf attack that May said was inspired by a warped Islamist ideology.
About 40 people were injured and 29 remain in hospital, seven in critical condition, after the incident, which resembled Daesh-inspired attacks in France and Germany where vehicles were driven into crowds.
In Belgium today, security forces found a rifle as well as bladed weapons in a car driven by a Frenchman who tried to ram a crowd in the port city of Antwerp, prosecutors said.
Bomb disposal units were on the scene to examine the vehicle and “different arms were found in the boot – bladed weapons, a riot gun (rifle) and a container of liquid that is still unidentified,” the federal prosecutor’s office said in a statement.
“The suspect is Mohamed R., born on May 8, 1977, of French nationality and a resident of France,” the statement said.
The mayhem in London took came on the first anniversary of attacks that killed 32 people in Brussels. Twelve people were killed in Berlin in December when a truck plowed into a Christmas market and 84 died in July in a similar attack on Nice waterfront for which Islamic State claimed responsibility.
This morning, in London, British MPs reacted with defiance, shock and emotional tribute as they came to terms with yesterday’s attack which left a police officer dead on the cobbles inside the gates of the world’s oldest parliament.
MPs and peers, aides, staff and journalists returned to work this morning and the House of Commons chamber was packed for the minute’s silence in tribute to the victims, before MPs held a planned session on international trade, insisting it was “business as usual”.
Outside, forensic officers worked in a blue tent at the scene of the attack, before later combing the ground in a fingertip search for evidence of yesterday’s attack.
The assailant sped across Westminster Bridge in a car, plowing into pedestrians along the way, then ran through the gates of the nearby parliament building and fatally stabbed an unarmed policeman before being shot dead.
“What I can confirm is that the man was British-born and that some years ago he was once investigated by MI5 in relation to concerns about violent extremism,” May said in a statement to parliament.
“He was a peripheral figure…He was not part of the current intelligence picture. There was no prior intelligence of his intent or of the plot,” she said, adding that his identity would be revealed when the investigation allowed.
Among the casualties were 12 Britons, three French children, two Romanians, four South Koreans, one German, one Pole, one Chinese, one American and two Greeks, May said.
“We meet here, in the oldest of all parliaments, because we know that democracy and the values it entails will always prevail,” she said.
“A terrorist came to the place where people of all nationalities and cultures gather what it means to be free and he took out his rage indiscriminately against innocent men, women and children,” said May.
Britain’s plan to trigger the formal process of exiting the EU on March 29 will not be delayed due to the attack, May’s spokesman said.
In a message, the Queen said: “My thoughts, prayers, and deepest sympathy are with all those who have been affected by yesterday’s awful violence.”
Defence secretary Michael Fallon said the police and agencies “that we rely on for our security have forestalled a large number of these attacks in recent years, over a dozen last year”.
“This kind of attack, this lone-wolf attack, using things from daily life, a vehicle, a knife, are much more difficult to forestall,” he told the BBC.
A vigil was planned in London’s Trafalgar Square at 6 pm.