LONDON (CNN) — British Prime Minister Theresa May claimed there was “too much tolerance” of Islamist extremism in the UK as she vowed a clampdown in the wake of the third terror attack to hit the UK this year.
Seven people died and 48 were injured when three masked men drove a van into pedestrians on London Bridge before leaping out and launching a stabbing spree in nearby bars and restaurants.
Police said the three attackers, wearing fake suicide belts to sow further panic, were shot dead within eight minutes of police receiving the first emergency call just after 10 p.m. local time. Authorities announced 12 arrests on Sunday (June 4).
Speaking in Downing Street five days before the UK general election, May described the latest attack as “brutal” and said extremism had to be defeated. “We cannot and must not pretend that things can continue as they are,” she said. “Enough is enough.”
• Large area south of London Bridge cordoned off as intense police investigation continues.
• 36 victims were still being treated in London hospitals Sunday, with 21 in a critical condition.
• Police carried out raids Sunday (June 4) morning in Barking, east London, making 12 arrests.
• May says police have disrupted five “credible” terror plots since Westminster bridge attack in late March.
• Major parties suspend general election campaign for a day but vote will go ahead on Thursday (June 8) as planned.
May insisted that the recent attacks in Westminster, Manchester and London Bridge were unconnected, but warned that they were bound together by the “single evil ideology of Islamist extremism.”
She also said that while progress had been made, there remained “far too much tolerance of extremism in our country.”
“Since the emergence of the threat from Islamist-inspired terrorism, our country has made significant progress in disrupting plots and protecting the public. But it is time to say `Enough is enough’.”
May said that Britain’s counter-terrorism strategy would be reviewed, and warned that the internet could no longer remain a “safe space” for extremists.
The attack began late Saturday (June 3) night, when a white van swerved into crowds of pedestrians on London Bridge, leaving bodies lying in the roadway, according to witness reports. At least one pedestrian is thought to have jumped into the Thames to escape being hit.
The suspects are then believed to have jumped out the van and proceeded on foot towards the nearby area of Borough Market, one of the capital’s most popular nightlife spots.
Eyewitnesses spoke of panic as three men armed with “foot-long” knives burst into packed restaurants and cafes, slashing at those inside indiscriminately. Many customers fought off the attackers, using chairs, pint glasses and bottles. Others hid behind tables and inside bathrooms or attempted to flee.
In total, the marauding attack lasted approximately eight minutes, according to police, who shot dead all three known suspects at the scene. At least one of the suspects appeared to be wearing a suicide bomb vest, though this was later confirmed by police to be fake.
The National Health Service in England said 48 people were taken to various London hospitals after the attack. On Sunday (June 4), 36 were still being treated, with 21 in a critical condition.
French and Australian nationals have been confirmed by their respective governments as among those caught up in the attack.
As the attack unfolded, two unarmed police officers confronted the assailants. One, a transport police officer, took aim at the attackers with his baton, the British Transport Police said. He was in a stable condition in hospital, the BTP said.
Speaking on Sunday (June 4) morning, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressia Dick urged people in London to remain vigilant but stressed that police believe they have the incident “under control.”
“Of course it’s a very complex and confused scene and confused series of events,” Dick said, adding that police were investigating whether anyone else was involved in planning the attack. Police later said 12 people were arrested after raids in the Barking area of east London.
The third terrorist attack to have occurred in the UK this year and the second in London, Saturday’s (June 3) attack will renew the debate around the safety of the capital in light of the increased terror threat.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan praised the quick police response and asked Londoners to remain calm and vigilant. This is the second time Khan has addressed the public in response to a terror attack since becoming mayor, and he repeated his previous insistence that London remains one of the safest global cities in the world.
“London is one of the safest global cities in the world,” Khan told CNN. “One of the reasons we’re kept safe is because of the hard work of our police and emergency services.
“Over the next few days, Londoners and visitors will be seeing an increased police presence. That will include increased armed officers.”
For many in London, Saturday’s (June 4) attack will be a grim reminder of the events on Westminster Bridge on March 22, when Khalid Masood drove a car into pedestrians, killing four and injuring 50, before stabbing a police officer to death at the entrance to parliament. The attacker — who reportedly had a criminal record and may have had connections to violent extremism — was gunned down by a police officer.
The attack also comes less than two weeks after Salman Abedi, a suicide bomber, killed 22 people at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester.
The authorities also confirmed that there would be no change in the threat level which is currently set at “severe” which is one below the highest level of “critical”.
“The critical level went up because in Manchester the police had to be absolutely sure that there was no additional material — explosives — out there that could mean there might be a follow-up attack,” British Home secretary Amber Rudd told ITV.
“We don’t believe that there is additional elements that could be carrying on the attack we saw from last night — or JTAC has rather made that assessment — so they haven’t recommended threat (level) going to critical.”