Westminster car crash treated as terror attack, say police

UK police conduct searches after man drives into cyclists and crashes outside parliament

Two people were injured when a car drove into security barriers outside the British parliament, counter-terrorism police leading the investigation into the incident said. Video: Reuters

 

Police arrested a man on suspicion of terrorism offences on Tuesday after he appeared to drive deliberately into cyclists before ramming a car into security barriers outside the British parliament in what appeared to be the second attack on the building in just under 18 months.

The man, aged 29, injured three people as he drove through a group of cyclists and pedestrians before hitting a barrier outside parliament during the early morning rush hour.

Counter-terrorism officers are searching two addresses in Birmingham and an address in Nottingham in connection with the Westminster incident, the Metropolitan Police has said.

“Given that this appears to be a deliberate act, the method, and this being an iconic site, we are treating it as a terrorist incident,” London assistant commissioner Neil Basu said earlier.

Mr Basu said the man was not co-operating with police. He was not believed to be known to security forces, he said.

Security minister Ben Wallace told BBC the man was a British citizen who originally came from another country.

The BBC, citing unnamed sources, said the man was from the Birmingham area and known to police.

None of the injuries were life-threatening, officials said.

Police said a silver Ford Fiesta crashed into a number of cyclists and pedestrians before crashing into barriers outside the Houses of Parliament at 7.37am .

“The driver of the car, a man in his late 20s, was arrested at the scene by armed officers,” police said in a statement. “He was arrested on suspicion of terrorist offences. There was nobody else in the vehicle, which remains at the scene and is being searched. No weapons have been recovered at this stage.”

The Fiesta, registration number FL10 CWZ, was privately owned and travelled from Birmingham to London late on Monday night, arriving in the London area just after midnight this morning, Scotland Yard said.

It was then in the area of Tottenham Court Road between 1.25am and 5.55am, before being driven around the areas of Westminster and Whitehall from 6am until the time of the incident.

Armed police swarmed the scene following the incident and cordoned off a large area around the parliament in central London, which is usually bustling with tourists and government workers.

2017 attack

In March 2017, Khalid Masood (52) killed four people on nearby Westminster Bridge before he stabbed to death an unarmed police officer in the grounds of parliament. He was shot dead at the scene. It was the first of five attacks on Britain last year which police blamed on terrorism.

London’s Ambulance Service said it had treated two people at the scene on Tuesday and they had been taken to hospital. A third person with minor injuries was assessed at the scene.

“It’s a very serious incident,” witness Jason Williams told reporters. “There was smoke coming from the vehicle.”

Camera footage showed the vehicle taking a wrong turn into a group of cyclists waiting at a traffic light before veering across the road and into a lane used for accessing parliament, where it struck a barrier and came to a halt.

Government security officials were due to hold a meeting of their emergency committee to discuss the incident.

Images shot by a Euronews journalist showed police pointing their guns at the vehicle shortly after the crash. Footage on social media showed a handcuffed man being led away by heavily armed police. Other footage showed a cyclist lying on the street.

One witness to the incident said: “[The driver had] two hands on the steering wheel and he did not look back over his shoulder to look at the damage he’d created — he was just looking deadpan straight in front of him.

“He wasn’t shouting anything, he wasn’t screaming, he didn’t look crazed or out of control — he was just deadpan.”

May’s response

British prime minister Theresa May, who is on holiday during parliament’s summer recess, said her thoughts were with the people injured and urged Britons to remain vigilant but to carry on as normal.

“For the second time in as many years the home of our democracy, which is a potent symbol of our precious values of tolerance and freedom, has just witnessed terrible scenes just yards from its door,” she said in a statement.

Westminster Underground station, close to parliament, was closed to the public and the building cordoned off.

Britain is on its second-highest threat level of “severe”, meaning an attack is considered highly likely, and the authorities say a dozen Islamist plots had been foiled since Masood’s attack in Westminster last year.

Last week, a Muslim convert admitted plotting to kill more than 100 people by driving a truck into pedestrians on Oxford Street. – Reuters/PA