Worshippers standing outside two North London mosques early Monday morning were struck by a van, leaving at least one person dead and eight injured.
A crowd of Muslims standing near two mosques, the Finsbury Park mosque and the Muslim Welfare House, had just left evening prayers when the car came at them. Witnesses reported that the vehicle’s driver, described by several outlets as a 48-year-old white man, screamed that he was “going to kill all Muslims” and attempted to run away from the scene. The suspect is also alleged to have said, “I did the job… I done my bit. I’d do it again, I’d do it again.” Several of the onlookers, assisting an elderly man (believed to be the incident’s only casualty at present) who had fallen on the street when the van struck, pursued the attacker and restrained him until police arrived. An imam reportedly warned the crowd not to harm the attacker.
Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu told reporters the incident was being treated as a “terrorist attack” and that the van driver’s has been arrested. Prime Minister Theresa May released a statement condemning the incident and emphasizing that the attack was “every bit as sickening” as other recent tragedies targeting innocent civilians.
“This was an attack on Muslims near their place of worship,” May said. “And like all terrorism, in whatever form, it shares the same fundamental goal. It seeks to drive us apart; and to break the precious bonds of solidarity and citizenship that we share in this country. We will not let this happen.”
London Mayor Sadiq Khan also criticized the violence, the third tragedy England has seen in the past two months. “My thoughts and prayers are with everyone affected,” Khan said in a statement, going on to note the timing of the attack. “We don’t yet know the full details, but this was clearly a deliberate attack on innocent Londoners, many of whom were finishing prayers during the holy month of Ramadan. While this appears to be an attack on a particular community, like the terrible attacks in Manchester, Westminster and London Bridge it is also an assault on all our shared values of tolerance, freedom and respect.”
Monday’s events are the latest in a string of violent incidents in England. Twenty-three people were killed and more than 100 injured in May when a bomb struck a pop concert in Manchester. The tragedy was followed by an attack on London Bridge and Borough Market in early June, which killed eight people and injured 48. Both events dominated headlines and attracted condemnation from around the world. But Monday’s attack has been covered somewhat differently, with several publications and commentators choosing to focus on the Finsbury Park mosque’s historic ties to extremist cleric Abu Hamza, arrested in 2004. The Daily Mail also described the attacker as a “clean-shaven white man.”
— Nathan Lean (@nathanlean) June 19, 2017
— Yaaseen (@yaaseen316) June 19, 2017
Stories like these conveniently declined to note that the mosque received an award in 2014 for its efforts to counter extremism. This coverage is part of a larger trend: attacks by Muslim perpetrators receive 4.5 times more media coverage on average than those carried out by non-Muslims, as is the case with the Finsbury Park attacker. Meanwhile, multiple studies and reports have indicated that Western media coverage has an anti-Muslim bias — something that seems to be hindering coverage of the Finsbury Park violence.
Sufyan Ismail, founder of Mend, an Islamophobia monitor, told the Guardian that attacks against Muslims were on the rise in Britain.
“In the weeks following Manchester and London Bridge we have seen a huge increase in the number of Islamophobic incidents and crimes, this terrorist attack being the worst case,” Ismail said.
He went on to note that the media has played a role in exacerbating the issue. “We also condemn the initial ambivalent response of, and language used by parts of the media in reporting this as a terrorist attack,” he said. “We would contrast this with their response to the similar Westminster attack that was immediately described as a terrorist attack. We call upon the media to ensure even-handedness and objectivity in their reporting of such incidents regardless of the alleged perpetrator or victims.”
Media coverage isn’t the only response to the attack drawing criticism. Swift to weigh in on prior attacks, U.S. President Donald Trump has been silent so far on Monday’s tragic events. Trump notably responded swiftly following the Manchester attack, and he was also quick to blame Khan for the London Bridge and Borough Market violence.
Trump quiet on #FinsburyPark. By now after London Bridge attack he had
– shared unverified report
– tied to Muslim Ban
– attacked Sadiq Khan
— Matt McDermott (@mattmfm) June 19, 2017
Drawing a contrast with Trump, other world leaders offered their condolences, including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and former Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed.
We strongly condemn the Finsbury Park terror attack. In these difficult weeks for London & the UK, know you’ll always have Canada’s support.
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) June 19, 2017
Saddened by the #FinsburyParkMosque terror attack. We must all work harder against such intolerance. My thoughts are with everyone affected.
— Mohamed Nasheed (@MohamedNasheed) June 19, 2017
Religious leaders also condemned the violence, with Sikh, Jewish, and Christian leaders offering London’s Muslim community their support. In response to the attack, several mosques have said they will be increasing security measures, especially in advance of Eid al-Fitr celebrations, which begin Sunday.