Theresa May’s confirmation that an attack on Muslims in London was terrorism stood in stark contrast to the reticence U.S. officials have shown.
Updated: 12:48 p.m. EDT
“This morning, our country woke to news of another terrorist attack on the streets of our capital city,” British Prime Minister Theresa May said on Monday, hours after a middle-aged Englishman drove a rented van into a crowd of Muslim pedestrians outside a mosque in north London, wounding at least 10 people.
The attack outside the Finsbury Park mosque, May added, was “the second this month, and every bit as sickening as those which have come before.”
The Metropolitan Police confirmed later in the day that a 47-year-old suspect “was arrested for attempted murder” and “the commission, preparation or instigation of terrorism.” Officers on the scene first described it as “a terrorist incident” at 12:29 a.m. just eight minutes after they were alerted to the crime. A man who had fallen ill moments before the attack was pronounced dead at the scene 40 minutes after it, but it was not immediately clear if he was a victim of the attack.
May’s clear statement that the assault on innocent civilians was terrorist in nature stood in stark contrast to the reticence officials in the United States have shown about using that term to describe violence perpetrated by far-right extremists against Muslims. It also clashed with President Donald Trump’s obsession with only one form of terrorism, attacks carried out by “radical Islamic” fundamentalists.
Perhaps because the U.K. has relatively recent experience with a conflict, in Northern Ireland, in which more than a thousand civilians were killed by terrorists who were either Protestant or Catholic, British authorities are more forthright about acknowledging that terrorism is a tactic and a crime that is not specific to a single faith or ethnic group.
The suspected attacker, identified by the BBC and other outlets as Darren Osborne, was captured and turned over to the police by witnesses to the assault, who told BuzzFeed News that he made his motivation for it clear by screaming, “I’m going to kill all Muslims!”
As the bystanders who tackled Osborne held him down and waited for the authorities to arrive, one said, the attacker had urged them to kill him.
The police later praised a local imam, Mohammed Mahmoud, for urging people not to harm the prone attacker.
Video of Osborne being loaded into a police van just before 1 a.m. local time, shared on social networks by witnesses, gave a sense of the raw anger among members of the community, who demanded to know how he could justify the murder of innocent civilians.
In the aftermath of the attack, some observers suggested that anti-Muslim screeds in the British tabloids and on social networks could have incited the attacker to violence.
Two notorious Islamophobes came in for particular criticism: the Daily Mail columnist Katie Hopkins and the former head of the English Defence League, Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, who uses the alias Tommy Robinson.
Before the motive for the early morning attack was clear, Hopkins incorrectly suggested that it was Islamist in nature. Later on Monday, Robinson referred to it as a “revenge attack,” and claimed that it justified his dire prediction that far-right militias would soon form to defend Britain against the perceived threat from multiculturalism.
The attack came just after Britons marked the one-year anniversary of the assassination of Jo Cox, a pro-Europe member of Parliament who was killed by a pro-Brexit extremist who screamed “Britain First!” as he shot her.