Six Killed in London Terrorist Attack Days Before U.K. Vote
(Bloomberg) -- Six people were killed in an attack on a popular London nightlife spot as terrorism struck Britain for the second time in as many weeks, just days before a national election.
A van swerved into Saturday-night crowds on London Bridge, before three men got out and went on a stabbing rampage through nearby bars. London Ambulance Service said it took 48 people to hospitals. The men, who wore hoax suicide vests, were shot dead by police, taking the total death toll to nine, Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley told reporters.
Prime Minister Theresa May has called an emergency meeting of security officials and ministers early on Sunday. She will make a statement at 10 a.m. in London, according to the BBC.
The attack comes as campaigning for the June 8 election enters its final stages with the country still reeling from two other terror attacks this year, most recently the killing of 22 people, including children, at a pop concert in Manchester.
While it’s not clear how the attacks -- the worst terrorist incidents on U.K. soil since 2005 -- will affect the election, security and Britain’s role in foreign wars have become more prominent campaign issues since the Manchester attack.
No one has claimed responsibility for the killings on Saturday, which bore similarities to an attack in March, when a lone assailant rammed into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge and then stabbed a police officer outside Parliament. Islamic State claimed the Westminster and the Manchester attacks, and has traditionally encouraged followers to carry out strikes during the holy month of Ramadan.
President Donald Trump wasted no time in using the attack to urge U.S. courts to reinstate his travel ban focused on people from predominantly Muslim countries. “We need to be smart, vigilant and tough. We need the courts to give us back our rights. We need the Travel Ban as an extra level of safety,” Trump said on Twitter. He later phoned May and offered condolences for the “brutal terror attacks,” according to a White House statement.
The incident started shortly after 10 p.m. when a van swerved off the road on London Bridge into a crowd of pedestrians, police said. The vehicle continued to Borough Market, a warren of narrow streets that’s popular with tourists and full of bars. There, the three men went on stabbing spree before being shot dead by police.
“They were running, a police officer was trying to put himself between them and the crowd,” Gabriele Sciotto, a photographer who took pictures of the suspects after they were shot, told the BBC. “In around two or five seconds, they shot all three men down.”
In the hours after the attack, officers moved to clear the pubs and bars in the area, while checking for more attackers. Customers were led out through the police cordon with their hands on their heads, television footage showed.
The Conservative Party, opposition Labour Party and the Scottish National Party suspended national campaigning for Thursday’s election, according to Sky News. London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan told the BBC that police officers would be deployed in the streets on Sunday.
Campaigning turned bitter in the aftermath of the Manchester bombing. Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said domestic terrorism was linked to British participation in foreign wars. May retorted that Corbyn was making excuses for terrorists. Still, while the race has since tightened, it’s far from clear whether the aftermath of the concert attack played any role in the narrowing of May’s poll lead.
London is the latest in a list of European cities to have been targeted. Suicide attacks at the Brussels airport killed 32 last year, while Islamic State-linked extremists attacked a concert hall and other sites across Paris in 2015, killing 130 people. Jihadists have also used trucks to plow through crowds in Stockholm, Berlin and Nice, killing multitudes.
May was in charge of police and security as home secretary for six years before becoming prime minister, and polls show voters see her as a stronger leader than Corbyn when it comes to keeping Britain safe. Still, in her previous job she oversaw cuts to police budgets, and the Labour Party renewed its criticism of Conservative austerity policies in the wake of the Manchester attack.
The latest set of polls indicate the Conservatives’ lead over Labour has shrunk to between 1 and 12 percentage points, from more than 20 points at the start of the campaign.
Corbyn’s campaign is also vulnerable. He was slammed in a televised election event on Friday for his historic views on the Irish Republican Army, which carried out a bombing and shooting campaign against the U.K. before a peace deal in the 1990s. The Conservatives have accused him of being soft on terror, a charge he denies.