The 2017 London Bridge Attack

Flowers at the London bridge.
Flowers at the London bridge.

On 3 June 2017, an attack took place in the Southwark district of London, England, when a van mounted the pavement of London Bridge and was driven into pedestrians. The van crashed, and the three male occupants ran to the nearby Borough Market pub and restaurant area, where they stabbed people with long knives. Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, stated that the attackers were “probably” Islamist terrorists.

Eight people were killed and 48 were injured, including four unarmed police officers who attempted to stop the assailants. The three attackers, who wore fake explosive vests, were all shot dead by police.

It was the third terrorist attack in Great Britain in just over two months, following a similar attack in Westminster in March and a bombing in Manchester in May.

Background

The attack was the third terrorist attack in Great Britain in 2017. In March, five people were killed in a combined vehicle and knife attack at Westminster. In late May, a suicide bomber killed 22 people at an Ariana Grande concert at Manchester Arena. After the Manchester bombing, the UK’s terror threat level was raised to “critical”, its highest level, until 27 May, when it was reduced back to its previous level of severe.

Attack

The attack was carried out using a white Renault van hired earlier in the same evening in Harold Hill, Havering by Khuram Butt, the ringleader. He had intended to hire a 7.5 ton truck, but was refused due to his failure to provide payment details and had to use a smaller van instead. The attackers appear to have used a rented flat in east London to prepare for the attack and armed themselves with pink 12-inch (30 cm) kitchen knives with ceramic blades, which they tied to their wrists with leather straps. They also prepared fake explosive belts by wrapping water bottles in grey tape, which they hung from their upper bodies.

At 21:58 BST (UTC+1) on 3 June 2017, the van travelled south across London Bridge in an apparent reconnaissance of the target. It returned six minutes later, crossing over the bridge northbound, made a U-turn at the northern end and then drove southbound across the bridge again. It mounted the pavement and hit multiple pedestrians, killing three. Eyewitnesses said the van was travelling at high speed. 999 emergency calls requesting ambulances were made at 22:07 and the police at 22:08. The van was later found to contain 13 wine bottles containing flammable liquid with rags stuffed in them along with blow torches.

After their van crashed outside the Barrowboy and Banker pub on Borough High Street, the three attackers ran to Stoney Street adjoining Borough Market, where they stabbed four people in the Borough Bistro pub. The attack occurred shortly after the incident on the bridge. Some people threw items such as bottles and chairs at the attackers and a witness stated that the attackers were shouting “This is for Allah”.

People in and around a number of other restaurants and bars along Stoney Street, including the Southwark Tavern, Brindisa, El Pastor, Roast, the Black and Blue steakhouse, and the Wheatsheaf pub, were also attacked. A Romanian baker hit one of the attackers over the head with a crate before giving shelter to 20 people inside Bread Ahead, a bakery in the market.

One man fought the three attackers with his bare fists in the Black and Blue steakhouse, shouting “Fuck you, I’m Millwall”, giving members of the public who were in the restaurant the opportunity to run away. He was stabbed eight times in the hands, chest and head. He underwent surgery at St Thomas’ Hospital and was taken off the critical list on 4 June. A British Transport Police officer armed with a baton also took on the attackers, receiving multiple stab wounds and temporarily losing sight in his right eye as a consequence.

The three attackers were then shot dead by armed officers from the City of London and Metropolitan police services outside the Wheatsheaf eight minutes after the initial emergency call was made. CCTV footage of the police response shows the three attackers in Borough Market running at the armed officers immediately after they got out of their City of London armed response vehicle (ARV), before these officers, together with officers from two Metropolitan Police ARVs, shoot the attackers dead 20 seconds later. A total of 46 rounds were fired by three City of London and five Metropolitan Police officers.

Aftermath

The Metropolitan Police advised the public to run, or if not possible, hide from any attacker, and to remain calm and vigilant. All buildings within the vicinity of the bridge were evacuated, and London Bridge, Borough and Bank tube stations were closed at the request of the police.

The mainline stations at London Bridge, Waterloo East, Charing Cross and Cannon Street were also closed. The Home Secretary approved the deployment of a military counter terrorist unit from the Special Air Service (SAS) who were transported by No. 658 Squadron AAC helicopters. The helicopters carrying the SAS landed on London Bridge to support the Metropolitan Police, as at that time, there were concerns that there might be more attackers at large.

The Metropolitan Police Marine Policing Unit dispatched boats on the River Thames, with assistance from the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), to contribute to the evacuation of the area and look for any possible casualties that may have fallen from the bridge. At 01:45 BST on 4 June, controlled explosions took place to make safe the attackers’ bomb vests, which were found to be fake.

A stabbing incident took place in Vauxhall at 23:45 BST, causing Vauxhall station to be briefly closed; this stabbing was later confirmed to be unrelated to the attack.

An emergency COBRA meeting was held on the morning of 4 June. London Bridge mainline and Underground stations remained closed throughout 4 June, while Borough tube station reopened that evening. A large cordon was established around the scene of the attack, and it was expected that the closed bridge and roads would result in substantial disruption on 5 June. London Bridge station reopened at 05:00 on 5 June.

London’s Mayor, Sadiq Khan, said that there was a large surge of anti-Muslim hate crimes and Islamophobia following the attack.

New security measures were implemented on eight central London bridges following the attack to prevent further vehicle attacks, with the installation of large concrete barriers. The barriers have been criticised by cyclists for causing severe congestion in cycle lanes during peak hours.

The market reopened on Wednesday 14 June. The prolonged closure has had an impact on traders, who have lost over a week’s business. A support fund has been set up to assist the worst-affected traders.

Casualties

Eight members of the public (a Spaniard, a Briton, two Australians, a Canadian and three French citizens) were killed, as were the three attackers. Another 48 people were injured in the attack, including one New Zealander, two Australians, two Germans and four French citizens; of the 48 people admitted to hospital, 21 were initially reported to be in a critical condition. One body was pulled from the Thames near Limehouse several days after the attack. Three of the fatalities were caused in the initial vehicle-ramming attack, while the remaining five were stabbed to death.

Deaths and injuries by citizenship (excluding attackers)
Citizenship Deaths Injuries
France 3 6
Australia 2 2
United Kingdom 1 6
Spain 1 1
Canada 1 0
Germany 0 2
New Zealand 0 2
Bulgaria 0 1
Denmark 0 1
Greece 0 1
Romania 0 1
Unknown 0 25
Total 8 48

Four police officers were among those injured in the attack. An unarmed officer from the British Transport Police was stabbed and suffered serious injuries to his head, face and neck. An off-duty Metropolitan Police officer also tried to tackle the attackers and was seriously injured when he was stabbed. Two other Metropolitan Police officers received head and arm injuries.

The victims.
The victims.

One member of the public was struck in the head by a stray police bullet, but was expected to make a full recovery.

Attackers

On 4 June the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, said that “We are confident about the fact that they were radical Islamic terrorists, the way they were inspired, and we need to find out more about where this radicalisation came from.” Later that day, Amaq News Agency, an online outlet associated with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), said the attackers were ISIS fighters. On 5 June, two of the attackers were identified as Khuram Shazad Butt and Rachid Redouane. The third of the three attackers, Youssef Zaghba, was identified the following day.

Khuram Shazad Butt

Butt (born 20 April 1990) is believed to have been the ringleader. He was a Pakistan-born British citizen whose family came from Jhelum. He grew up in Britain, living in Plaistow. He had a wife and two children. Neighbours told the BBC that Butt had been reported to police for attempting to radicalise children; he had also expressed disgust at the way women dressed at Transport for London (TfL). He was known to police as a “heavyweight” member of the banned extremist group al-Muhajiroun. A BBC interviewee said he had a verbal confrontation with Butt in 2013 on the day after another Al-Muhajiroun follower had murdered Fusilier Lee Rigby.

Butt was also part of an al-Muhajiroun campaign in 2015 to intimidate Muslims who planned to vote in the UK general elections of that year, on the basis that God had forbidden it. He was known for holding extreme views, having been barred from two local mosques, and worshipped at two others.

He appeared in a 2016 Channel 4 Television documentary The Jihadis Next Door, which showed him arguing with police over the unfurling of an ISIL black flag in Regent’s Park. According to a friend, he had been radicalised by the YouTube videos of the American Muslim hate preacher Ahmad Musa Jibril.

Butt had worked for a man accused of training Mohammed Siddique Khan, the leader of the July 2005 London bombing that killed 56 people. The police and MI5 knew of Butt and he was investigated in 2015. The investigation was later “moved into the lower echelons”, and his file was classed low priority.

Butt sometimes manned the desk of the Ummah Fitness Centre gym, where he prayed regularly. There is CCTV footage of Butt, Redouane and Zaghba meeting outside the gym days before the attack. A senior figure at a local mosque had reported the gym to police.

The New York Times said that Butt and his brother were part of the UK government’s Prevent programme, which aims to prevent people from becoming terrorists, and which reports suspected radicals to police programmes. At the time of the attack he was on police bail following an allegation of fraud, though the police had intended to take no further action due to a lack of evidence. He had previously been cautioned by police for fraud in 2008 and common assault in 2010.

Rachid Redouane

Redouane (born 31 July 1986) claimed to be either Moroccan or Libyan, but unlike Butt, he was not previously known to police. Redouane worked as a pastry chef and in 2012 he married an Irish woman in a ceremony in Ireland. He lived variously in Rathmines, a suburb of Dublin, also in Morocco and the UK. According to his wife, he was most likely radicalised in Morocco upon returning to his country for a 17-month stay. Later the couple stayed in the UK on an Irish residency card where they had a daughter in 2015. The couple separated in 2016. At the time of the attack, he was living separately in Dagenham, East London.

Radouane was a failed asylum seeker to the U.K., whose application was denied in 2009. He also used the pseudonym Rachid Elkhdar claiming to be six years younger.

Youssef Zaghba

Zaghba (born 1995 in Fez, Morocco) was at the time of the attack living in east London where he worked in a fast food outlet. He also worked at an Islamic television channel in London. Zaghba was born to a Moroccan Muslim father and an Italian Catholic Christian mother who had converted to Islam to marry. Zaghba had dual Moroccan and Italian nationality. When his parents divorced, he went to Italy with his mother. In 2016, Zaghba was stopped at Bologna Guglielmo Marconi Airport by Italian officers who found IS-related materials on his mobile phone; he was stopped from continuing his journey to Istanbul. Italian authorities said Zaghba was monitored continuously while in Italy and that the UK was informed about him. Giuseppe Amato, an Italian prosecutor, said “We did our best. We could just monitor and surveil … and send a note to British authorities, that’s all we could do. And we did it. Since he moved to London, he came back to Italy once in a while for a total of 10 days. And during those 10 days we never let him out of our sight.”

According to the New York Times, the Italian branch of Al-Muhajiroun had introduced Butt to Zaghba.

Investigation

On the morning of 4 June, police made twelve arrests following raids in flats in the Barking area of east London, where one of the attackers lived; controlled explosions were carried out during the raids. Those held included five males aged between 27 and 55, arrested at one address in Barking, and six females aged between 19 and 60, arrested at a separate Barking address. One of the arrested males was subsequently released without charge. Four properties were being searched, including two in Newham in addition to the two in Barking. Further raids and arrests were made at properties in Newham and Barking early on the morning of 5 June. On 6 June, a man was arrested in Barking, and another in Ilford the following day. By 16 June, all those arrested had been released without charge.

Reactions

Prime Minister Theresa May returned to Downing Street from campaigning for the general election. May, on the morning after the attack, said the incident was being treated as terrorism, and that the recent terror attacks in the UK are “bound together by the single evil ideology of Islamist extremism” which “is a perversion of Islam”. As part of a four-point plan to tackle terrorism, she called for tighter internet regulations to “deprive the extremists of their safe spaces online”, saying that technology firms were not currently doing enough. May’s stance on the role of the internet and social media in enabling radicalisation was criticised by the Open Rights Group and the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence. May was also criticised for using the speech to detail policy measures to respond to the terror threat, which some saw as contrary to her pledge to pause campaigning out of respect for the victims. May said a review would be carried out by the police and intelligence agencies to establish whether the attack could have been prevented, and on 28 June Home Secretary Amber Rudd commissioned David Anderson QC to provide independent assurance of the review work.

The Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Corbyn, the Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron and the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan all wrote on Twitter that their thoughts were with those affected and expressed thanks to the emergency services. Khan described the attack as “deliberate and cowardly” and condemned it “in the strongest possible terms”. He later said that “the city remains one of the safest in the world” and there was “no reason to be alarmed” over the increased police presence around the city.

The Conservative Party, Labour Party, Liberal Democrats and Scottish National Party suspended national election campaigns for a day after the attack. UKIP chose not to suspend its campaigning; leader Paul Nuttall said it was “what the extremists would want”. May confirmed that the general election would go ahead as scheduled on 8 June. The BBC cancelled or postponed a number of political programmes due to air on 4 June.

Harun Khan, the secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, also condemned the attack. More than 130 imams condemned the attackers, refused them Islamic burials, and said in a statement that the terrorists did not represent Islam.

Condolences, expressions of shock, support, solidarity and sympathy were offered by many national governments and supranational bodies.

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