Finsbury Park: 'Hero' imam stood between alleged terrorist and angry victims
The imam of a Finsbury Park mosque has described how he intervened to protect a suspected terrorist who had just driven a van into a group of Muslims, killing one.
Imam Mohammed Mahmoud explained that "all life is sacred" and he had wanted to "extinguish any flames of anger or mob rule".
However, he said the attack may be proof that people who were trying to demonise London and Britain's Muslim community and divide the community were succeeding.
Just after midnight on Monday morning, Imam Mohammed had just finished leading prayers in the adjacent mosque.
"A brother came in quite panicked and said somebody had run over a group of people and tried to kill them," he said.
He went outside and found a group of 15-20 people tending to injured people: including three people who had been helping an elderly man who had been taken ill.
The scene was shocking – one person had been killed in the attack and another possibly left paralysed, unable to feel his arms or legs, he said.
Three people were holding down a white man dressed in jeans and t-shirt who had deliberately driven his van into the group.
"We managed to surround him and to protect (the alleged attacker) from any harm," he said.
"We stopped all forms of attack and abuse towards him, that were coming from every angle.
"We pushed people back trying to hit him… he was unscathed."
Imam Mohammed said a police van had driven past and they asked them to take the man into custody before he was seriously hurt.
On Monday Imam Mohammed was hailed a hero for his actions, and praised by politicians and police.
London mayor Sadiq Khan said he could understand why "things were getting very heated" after the attack.
"Imam Mohammed did a really good job in calming things down and making sure that justice can be done as it should be done via due process, rather than anyone taking the law into their own hands," he said.
"This is a good community. They pull together, they work closely with each other and the actions of Imam Mohammed are what I would expect from a good faith leader and a good Muslim leader."
Toufik Kacimi, CEO of the Muslim Welfare House outside which the attack took place, said earlier he wanted to "particularly thank our Imam Mohammed Mahmoud, whose bravery and courage helped calm the immediate situation after the incident and prevented further injuries and potential loss of life."
Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu thanked "those people who helped police in detaining the man and worked with officers to calmly and quickly get him into our custody - their restraint in the circumstances was commendable".
Imam Mohammed said the Finsbury Park community was mild-mannered and calm, and its mosques were "incredibly peaceful".
"I can assure you we will do our utmost to calm down any tensions," he said.
But he condemned the "tragic and barbaric terrorist attack".
He said he had been told the attacker had said "I did my bit" after the attack.
"It's maybe proof that this demonisation of the Muslim community at the hand of those who have ulterior motives and wish to divide this country and divide this great city have succeeded to some extent," Imam Mohammed said.
"(They have) influenced the vulnerable and impressionable into thinking we're barbaric and that we are people who like to shed blood and therefore that we must be eliminated and exterminated.
"The fabric of society is not torn. But we have to continue to keep the fabric of the society and this community of London intact - and come together."
Prime Minister Theresa May said earlier on Monday that there had been "far too much tolerance of extremism in our country over many years, including Islamophobia".
Author JK Rowling, who is vocal on social media about politics and social issues, called for a conversation on "how the Finsbury Park terrorist was radicalised", pointing at incendiary headlines and commentary in tabloid media attacking Muslims, and anti-immigrant campaigning during the Brexit referendum.
She also pointed out that Finsbury Park Mosque had, in 2014, been awarded a national award for charity and community work.
Earlier, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick said an attack on one community was an attack on all.
"London is a city of many faiths and many nationalities," she said. "Terrorists will not succeed in their attempts to divide us and make us live in fear."
"Extra officers are on duty in the area to help reassure the local community. They will be there for as long as they are needed.
"Communities will see additional officers patrolling across the city and at Muslim places of worship. We are working as hard as we can to protect all our communities, and we will not be defeated."
- Sydney Morning Herald