Police are investigating a potential terror attack in London after a van ploughed into people near a north London mosque, killing one man and injuring eight others.
The prime minister, Theresa May, was woken to be told of the early-morning incident at Finsbury Park and has confirmed that counter-terrorism command is leading an active inquiry.
Officers are investigating multiple reports from the scene that the van intentionally drove into a crowd, members of which had recently left prayers at the nearby Finsbury Park mosque.
Members of the public detained a man, believed to be the driver, who was reported to have gestured to onlookers after he was handed over to police.
In an early morning statement, May said police were treating the van incident “as a potential terrorist attack”.
She added: “I will chair an emergency meeting later this morning. All my thoughts are with the victims, their families and the emergency services on the scene.”
Armed officers were deployed at the scene as a precaution.
Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, denounced the incident as “a horrific terrorist attack on innocent people in Finsbury Park.
“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.”
Police have confirmed reports that passersby held the man on the ground before he was detained by officers.
The scene of the attack is outside the Muslim Welfare House and a few hundred metres away from the Finsbury Park mosque. It was the third incident in London to use a vehicle to kill, and Muslims who gathered in the area talked of fears of being targeted for hate attacks.
Police initially released a brief statement on the incident. Nearly four hours later they added more information:
“Officers attended alongside other emergency services and found and tended to a number of casualties. One man was pronounced dead at the scene. Officers are in the process of informing next of kin. A post mortem examination will be scheduled due course.
“Eight people injured were taken to three separate hospitals; two people were treated at the scene for minor injuries.
“At this stage there are no reports of any persons having suffered any knife injuries. The driver of the van – a man aged 48 – was found detained by members of public at the scene and then arrested by police in connection with the incident.
“He has been taken to hospital as a precaution, and will be taken into custody once discharged. He will also be subject of a mental health assessment in due course.”
The London ambulance service said a “number of resources have been sent to the scene in Seven Sisters Road”. Kevin Bate, deputy director of operations, said: “We have sent a number of ambulance crews, advance paramedics and specialist responses teams to the scene. An advance trauma team from London’s air ambulance has also been dispatched by car.”
The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) intially said worshippers were among the casualties. A tweet from the MCB said: “We have been informed that a van has run over worshippers as they left #finsburyparkmosque.”
The council later released a statement saying that it was aware that people were describing the incident as a “terror attack”.
Harun Khan, the secretary general of the MCB, said: “During the night, ordinary British citizens were set upon while they were going about their lives, completing their night worship. My prayers are with the victims and their families.”
Images and video posted to Twitter showed police vehicles blocking the street and a cordon in place. More than a dozen emergency vehicles could be seen near the UKCG Help Centre at the junction of Seven Sisters Road and the A503 Tollington Road.
One resident told the Press Association he jumped out of the way as the van struck pedestrians. The man, who did not want to be named, said: “The gentleman went straight down this road, people were just conversing, talking, just doing what we’re doing.
“And he just came into all of us. There was a lot of people. We got told to move straight away. I was shocked, shocked, shocked. There were bodies around me. Thank God I just moved to the side, I just jumped. Everyone is hurt. Everyone is actually hurt.”
Boubou Sougou, 23, saw the van mount the pavement and mow people downwhile travelling at speed.
“It was deliberate, it was not an accident,” he said.
Another witness, Abdikadar Warfa, told the Guardian he and and others caught hold of the van driver, who threw kicks and punches as he tried to escape. He said: “He tried to run away, he tried to escape. Some people were hitting him. He was fighting to run away.
“I heard the sound of the van crashing. One person was under the van,
some were run over.
“My friend said he had to lift the van, I was busy with a man who tried to escape. My friend said he said some words, but I didn’t hear it.”
One witness, who asked not to be named by the Guardian, said: “I was sitting in a cafe. My cousin was injured, he’s in hospital now. Someone told me two people were stuck under the van. People tried to lift the van up. Police were quick to the scene.”
One woman who lives opposite the scene told the BBC: “From the window, I started hearing a lot of yelling and screeching, a lot of chaos outside. Everybody was shouting: ‘A van’s hit people, a van’s hit people’.”
The incident happened in Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s Islington north constituency. He released a statement on Twitter expressing his shock.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd issued a statement saying: “My thoughts are with all those affected by the appalling incident at Finsbury Park. I am in contact with the Metropolitan Police who have confirmed it is being investigated by their Counter Terrorism Command.
“Yesterday, like so many others around the country, I took part in the Great Get Together to celebrate the values of Jo Cox. It was powerful and moving to see the community come together in a show of solidarity. We must all continue to stand together, resolute, against all those who try to divide us and spread hate and fear.”
A helicopter could be heard circling over Finsbury Park and police have cordoned off the area.